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Google Loans Cameras To Volunteers To Fill Gaps in ‘Street View’

Kanhema, who works as a product manager in Silicon Valley and is a freelance photographer in his spare time, volunteered to carry Google’s Street View gear to map what amounted to 2,000 miles of his home country. The Berkeley, Calif., resident has filled in the map of other areas in Africa and Canada as well.

“We start in the large metropolitan areas where we know we have users, where it’s easy for us to drive and we can execute quickly,” says Stafford Marquardt, a product manager for Street View.

He says the team is working to expand the service’s reach. To do that, Google often relies on volunteers who can either borrow the company’s camera equipment or take photos using their own. Most images on Street View are collected by drivers, and most of these drivers are employed by third parties that work with Google. But when it comes to the places Google hasn’t prioritized, people like Kanhema can fill in the gaps.

“It’s so conspicuous to have a 4-foot contraption attached to the roof of your car,” Kanhema says. “People are walking up and asking questions about, ‘Is that a camera? What are you recording? What are you filming? It is for Google Maps? Will my house be on the map? Will my face be on the map?'”

Google doesn’t pay him or the other volunteers — whom the company calls “contributors” — for the content they upload. Kanhema, for example, spent around $5,000 of his own money to travel across Zimbabwe for the project.

Google currently has no plans to compensate its volunteers, adding that it pays contributors “in a lot of other ways” by offering “a platform to host gigabytes and terabytes of imagery and publish it to the entire world, absolutely for free.”