China has launched an official online mapping site that could act as a benchmark for mapping services across the country.
The State Bureau of Surveying and Mapping (SBSM) launched the new service, called Map World, on Thursday. Still in its beta stages, the free online site appears to only offer maps for China, although it does provide satellite images across the globe.
The site features two-dimensional maps in both satellite and virtual formats, as well as in three-dimensional images that appear to require the installation of a browser add-on to view.
According to SBSM's Chinese website, the new service is set to "transform China's traditional way of providing geographic information."
But an analyst said the site, with its limited features, still has a way to go before it can compete with other already-established online mapping services.
"I don't believe it offers the same functionality or in some cases resolution as some of the alternatives out there," said Ben Cavender, an analyst with China Market Research Group. "But it will probably be refined and made more powerful over time."
On a business level, however, the site could act as way to streamline the standardization of online maps across the country, said Ren Yanghui, an analyst with Beijing-based research firm Analysys International.
Websites like Google and Chinese search engine Baidu already offer online mapping services for the country. But in May, SBSM introduced a new regulation that required all companies providing such services to apply to the bureau for approval, according to the official China Daily newspaper. To qualify for approval, online mapping providers must store all their mapping data in servers located in China and have no record of information leakage in any form for the last three years.
Chinese companies like Baidu have already been granted licenses, but according to the China Daily, Google has not. The company could not be reached for immediate comment, but in the past Google has said it is still examining what effect China's regulations would have on its mapping services. In spite of having no license, Google's mapping services continue to be accessible for users in China.
China introduced the regulation as way to ensure such mapping technology would not leak state secrets, Ren said. At the same time, China wants to ensure all online maps provide accurate data that won't mislead users, he added.
"It's a standard for the entire market," Ren said of Map World. "If there is a problem with a company's map, the government can use their own map to compare and see where the problem is."