Google Street View Has Gaps. Tawanda Kanhema Is Trying To Fill Them In Not every corner of the world is yet on Google Street View. Tawanda Kanhema sees these gaps as a kind of digital divide, so he volunteers to photograph and upload some of the places left off the map.
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He's Trying To Fill In The Gaps On Google Street View — Starting With Zimbabwe

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He's Trying To Fill In The Gaps On Google Street View — Starting With Zimbabwe

He's Trying To Fill In The Gaps On Google Street View — Starting With Zimbabwe

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  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/760572640/763239838" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
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MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:

If you've ever used Google Street View to plan a vacation or house-hunt, then you know that you can see almost every corner in the U.S. But Africa and other places are almost completely left off the map. NPR's Chloee Weiner has the story of someone who's trying to fill in the map, starting with Zimbabwe.

CHLOEE WEINER, BYLINE: Tawanda Kanhema is driving up Samora Machel Avenue, a crowded street in his hometown, Harare, the capital city of Zimbabwe.

TAWANDA KANHEMA: And to my left is the Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe, which happens to be the tallest building in the city. And you can feel the energy of this commercial center and cultural center of about 2.6 million people that live here.

WEINER: If he sounds like a tour guide, he is, a tour guide for the whole world. He has a camera strapped on the roof of his car.

KANHEMA: The camera kind of looks like an alien. It's got six eyes and what looks like a mouth.

WEINER: It's an odd sight, Kanhema says. So he gets a lot of questions from people as he passes.

KANHEMA: Is that a camera? What are you recording? What are you filming?

WEINER: It's a 360-degree camera that Kanhema is using to put images of his hometown on the map - Google Street View map, that is. Kanhema spend a few thousand dollars of his own money to do it because Google didn't pay.

STAFFORD MARQUARDT: We do pay them back in a lot of other ways.

WEINER: That Stafford Marquardt, a product manager for Street View. He says Google's ultimate goal is to make a Street View map of the whole world. To do that, Google relies on volunteers to capture places the company hasn't prioritized.

MARQUARDT: Google pays Street View car drivers through our official Google Street View fleet. When contributors decide to map the areas that are important to them, we offer a free platform to host gigabytes and terabytes of imagery and publish it to the entire world absolutely for free.

KANHEMA: There's not always going to be a business case to tell the story of how people live across the world.

WEINER: That's Kanhema again. He sees these gaps on Street View as a digital divide.

KANHEMA: I found it quite jarring that a lot of the countries in the region were not on the map.

WEINER: When Kanhema's not working as a product manager in Silicon Valley, he's a freelance photographer. He traverses Zimbabwe by foot, by car, by boat, even on a helicopter ride over Victoria Falls.

KANHEMA: Imagine being able to lend a ticket to get on a helicopter tour of one of the seven natural wonders of the world and being able to bring at least a million other people with you.

WEINER: He sees his work as a form of documentary photography, and he's hoping these images will bring in potential tourists and boost Zimbabwe's economy.

KANHEMA: So there's a sense of responsibility that comes with that. I'm not just here to document a place. I'm here to document the place and then go on to the next level to think - what can we do to improve the way people live in this place?

MARQUARDT: We've added businesses to every block of Harare that Tawanda drove, and that's important in bringing good maps and good directions and good date night-finding to all the people in Zimbabwe.

WEINER: That's Google's Stafford Marquardt again. Recently, Kanhema took Google's camera to northern Ontario. A local government hired him to capture the ice roads that connect native communities there before they're forever altered by climate change.

KANHEMA: You feel this very strong sense of solitude. We've probably only met two cars. There's really not much to see besides the vast endless expanse of ice. It's the coldest place I've been to.

WEINER: So far, Kanhema's mission has added 700,000 new images to Street View. Next stop, he might head to Greenland or maybe Alaska or Mozambique. And you can see everything he's seen by clicking on Google Maps.

Chloee Weiner, NPR News.

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