China launches own online map service, borrows heavily from Google
By Rick Martin
October 26, 2010
China recently launched the state-sponsored Tianditu.cn or "Map World," the country's homegrown answer to Google Maps. While it's an impressive initial effort, the mapping system does resemble Google's a little too much, and it also performs poorly once you navigate outside of Chinese borders.
China has always been keen to prove that homegrown tech is as good as the foreign stuff (see its Godson processors, Blu-ray competitors, solar power, and military technology). Here, as with many Chinese "me-too" products, there are a few points where China has imitated rather than created. Where Google Maps has the "Map/Satellite/Earth" button options off to the right, so too Tianditu has "Vector/Imagery/3D" (pardon the rough translation). Where Google Earth would be, Tianditu prompts you to launch something called "GeoGlobe." You'll also notice that the map controls on the left are nearly identical to Google's in function, size, and placement.
In the example above, the Chinese map is difficult to view due to building shadows, whereas the Google map seems to have solved this problem. No doubt Tianditu will run up against many of the same problems faced by Google, and thus will have to reinvent the wheel all for the sake of having a homegrown mapping service.
There have been some rumblings that Tianditu has used the same source data (from DigitalGlobe) that Google did, as some comparative reports have emerged that show cars positioned in the same areas on both the Google and Chinese versions. My own comparison of a different location above did not find this to be the case.
As for some of the other options, Tianditu doesn't run very deep. The provincial menu item only produces a wonky flash China map with external links to pre-existing regional maps that are usually disappointing, or at times not even available.
Tianditu has also conveniently reigned in some disputed border territories, much to the chagrin of Indian map-makers.
Of course you'll remember the troubles that Google ran into in China earlier this year, having first been attacked by hackers and then announcing that it would withdraw from China rather than continue to censor search results in accordance with local law.
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