Matt Oliver was fed up with online maps that sent him in the wrong direction and tired of waiting for someone else to make them right. So when Google came out with a program that lets users edit details on an online map, the WakeMed police officer jumped at the chance to become an amateur cartographer. Using Map Maker, the 30-year-old Raleigh man spends his spare time correcting and updating North Carolina maps.
Oliver is among thousands of citizen cartographers who work as volunteers, according to Google. He also serves as an advocate, a person who helps teach new mappers, and as a regional expert reviewer, who filters through the edits in North Carolina and approves or rejects other users tweaks to Tar Heel State maps. He recently talked about his avocation with The News & Observer.
Q. How did you get started with the mapping?I noticed on the Google Maps that there was an option to fix a problem myself. From there, it sort of took off. Who better to fix a local problem than a local?
The big thing that really got me was looking at something on Google and seeing that something was wrong. ... They give you an option to click on it to report this problem, and you sit there for months and months (wondering), is it going to get fixed? But when they started their direct mapping thing, it was a way to actually fix my stuff and get it done today.
Q. How do you make a fix to their maps?
You have to go to their site, right-click and there is a link (at the top) that says you can edit the maps yourself. You can do anything from add a road, add a place for instance if you wanted to add a house or a particular building that was missing, you can do that or you can edit the places that are already there. Most of mine now are editing roads that are already present.
Q. What areas have you worked on?
Pretty much all of North Carolina. Ive completely mapped out most of Asheville, most of Raleigh, Durham, Garner, Cary. I just got finished redoing a bunch of things in Cary that were just messed up.
Ive done other big items, too such as correcting (how the image displays on a map) on all of the major highways . Ive fixed speed limits, number of lanes, road priority (which gives priority to certain roads over others based upon their usage) all with the goal of making directions more accurate and getting people from point A to B more efficiently.
Its amazing how much different ones directions can be when the digital roads are aligned to the roadways true positions. I have removed hundreds of those little connector roads that didnt exist and invariably sent people the wrong way. I adjusted lake boundaries (and ocean boundaries after hurricanes), river locations, etc.
Q. Whats the most common thing you have had to fix?
Road geometry and thats just basically the shape of the road. ... A lot of times whenever theres construction going on, you would have to change the geometry to show where things currently are. In Cary, a lot of the major roads just werent the right shape at all.
Q Youve also done something called disaster mapping. Whats that?
I was working at the time as a police officer for WakeMed (and still do) and was a member of the State Medical Assistance Team. I know they had responded to Hurricane Rita in 2005, and I thought about the benefits it could have to disaster response if roads can be edited and published immediately.
These tornadoes that happened last April (2011), there were a lot of roads closed around Raleigh. I heard the reports on the radio all the time that This road is closed between such and such and such and such a street, and Id go ahead and mark it. ... It only takes about 10 minutes to get that thing pushed into the main server so anyone that happens to be using a Google Maps device, it would route them around that closure.
Q. You also mapped WakeMed. What prompted that and what was involved?
A lot of people have trouble finding where they want to go in those types of places so it was a great opportunity to help people out. Now if you look at it, you can see that each of the buildings is drawn almost to scale. All the parking lots are named. All of the local street names are on there, the ones that WakeMed actually uses.
Q. What do you get out of it?
For me, its kind of a stress reliever. You have to sit down, and you have to focus on whats going on with this right here and throw your mind in it. Otherwise, I look at it from a standpoint of one day whatever Im doing is going to help me. Someday, Im going to need directions somewhere, and Im going to get the correct ones.