The Holy Trail: Rethinking ‘Value’ in Google’s Ubiquitous Mapping Project
This research explores issues of convergence, value and labour through a case study of the Google ‘Trekker’ programme: a crowdsourcing initiative in which volunteers carry camera-outfitted ‘trekker packs’ to capture remote or hard to reach landscape imagery for Google Maps. We theorise how ‘ubiquitous mapping’ redefines traditional spatial boundaries, and how these new forms of convergence redefine notions of value around both labour and cultural space. Simultaneously physical and virtual, manual and digital, material and immaterial, Google Trekkers voluntarily produce immaterial goods via manual processes, problematising existing critiques around the social relations of production. From this context, we discuss how Google Trekker expands the company’s commercial value at the expense of consumer and citizen privacy, while retaining control over the construction and meaning of space.
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