Data. Google wants it, and is good at getting it.
And that’s fine and dandy when the data they need is already online, because they can send the Googlebot scurrying along to index everything it finds. But what about the data that isn’t online?
Google’s cameras-on-cars collected data for Google Maps, but even they can’t drive everywhere, and can’t grok the essential knowledge about what it is they’re photographing. Sometimes, the data you need is inside people’s heads. All you need is a way to extract it.
Google’s solution is a modern alternative to the quilting bee (as ReadWriteWeb puts it) or the Tupperware party (as British children of the 1970s will remember well).
In this case, the search company asked women in Nairobi, Kenya, to join a “mapping party”. They were given some food, something to drink, a laptop, and plenty of bandwidth. Google already has the basic maps. The women provide their knowledge and experience of the local area. They know where real life happens, and they can mark the real world on top of Google’s maps of the area.
The data’s out there. Sometimes you just have to think a little more laterally to get hold of it. Which is something else Google is good at.