The man who mapped Kazakhstan


Itching to reconnect with his native country a couple of years ago, University of Minnesota graphic design student Kyril Negoda decided to look up his hometown of Shakhtinsk, Kazakhstan, on Google Maps. He got an unpleasant surprise: His old haunts in the former Soviet republic were largely unmapped.

“The town was an empty spot on the map,” Negoda said.

In fact, the whole of Kazakhstan – the ninth largest country in the world – had very little detail on its online map. Negoda, 23, says Kazakhstan lost touch with its own geography when it gained independence after the Soviet Union collapsed.

So Negoda set out on a two-year map-making frenzy from his home in St. Paul using a tool called Google Map Maker. It’s sort of a Wikipedia model, in which anyone can change or add to maps, subject to approval by a community of citizen cartographers and Google experts.

Negoda figures he’s put 500 hours — unpaid — toward putting Kazakhstan on the map.

“I just want to know where I’m going when I’m in Kazakhstan,” Negoda said. “And I wanted to give something back to the country.”

Negoda loved maps as a child — he used to make maps of his boyhood travels. Those maps, and a sharp memory, formed the basis of his initial contributions to the online Kazakhstan maps, and he now uses satellite imagery and a network of volunteers inside Kazakhstan to make more changes — affecting features as large as major cities and highways or as small as businesses, parks and community gardens.

Shakhtinsk, Kazakhstan, on Google Maps: The town didn’t exist on Google Maps until Negoda added it.

View Larger Map

Map Maker is the natural evolution of Web mapping, said Ed Parsons, a geospatial scientist at Google.

“It recognizes that the experts are the people who live there,” said Parsons.

Parsons said Map Maker solves two problems. First, it provides data that’s not available in many places, including some remote countries in Africa and Asia. And in more developed places like North America and Europe, it creates a larger pool of cartographers who can keep maps relevant in a fast-changing landscape.

Amateur map-maker Negoda is still working on Kazakhstan, but he’s turned his attention to the Twin Cities as well, adding to Google Maps the tiniest Minneapolis parks, which hadn’t shown up before.

And he’s mapped the St. Paul campus of the University of Minnesota. The campus used to be just a blob on Google Maps, but now it looks like this:

View Larger Map

Negoda and other amateur cartographers from around the United States are meeting today and tomorrow at the Google campus in Mountain View, Calif., for a Map Maker summit.

Map-making is a hobby Negoda won’t let go of any time soon.

“You’re never done mapping,” he said.

  • Jim!!!

    Cool story.

  • michael doyle

    Sending this to a friend from Kazakhstan.


  • Good Maps is awesome!. 🙂

  • macewan

    nice work sir

  • as a traveler map is very essential tool, I know Nagoda’s feel when he saw empty box and get lost, google map for me I the great map ever

  • This is amazing. Truly shows some of the great things that come out of collaboration and great technology. Kudos to Kyril!

  • WhyBeTea


  • This is great of course, but it would be much better if he and others would invest their time in mapping for a truly free project like OpenStreetMap instead of volunteering for a billion dollar company where the result is not free to use for everybody.

  • Brent

    @Cider how is Google Maps not free for everybody?

  • You are the man!

  • kroltan

    @Cider: How is Google Maps is not free for everybody? Or you just wanted to make a ad about that project that can’t even design a decent GUI. It’s just a Google Maps ripoff. Also, some idiot just made all my city a National Reserve. Thhat needs moderation, you know?

  • Borat

    IS NICE!!1

  • Nikita Khlestov

    When I’ve tried to do something with my hometown Mariupol, Ukraine – i’ve failed, as “editing isn’t enabled for this area”

  • Ian

    This is awesome! I’m excited to hear about other people that are as excited about mapping as I am. I urge others to check out OpenStreetMap, too. I think what @Cider meant when he said “free for everybody to use” was that it’s not possible to get the data back out of Google Map Maker. Essentially you’re giving your valuable time to Google to help their business prosper.

    If you’re interested in crowd-sourced maps like Map Maker and OpenStreetMap, consider visiting, a site I set up to get crowd-sourced mappers together to map the areas in Minnesota around them.

  • Steve

    The google maps terms of service (that also cover map maker) do not allow me to distributed printed maps. If I spend hundreds of hours mapping my community and then want to make printed maps to distribute to visitors to my community I would be in volation of the terms of service.

    I am also not allowed to store map maker data on my PDA (ie for use without wireless coverage)

  • Robert


    You don’t seem to understand the difference between being provided with map tiles (with a very restrictive license that allows you basically look at them and maybe print them out if you’re lucky) and having actual map data that’s freely usable.

    OpenStreetMap has been going for much longer than Google Map Maker – in fact GMM is a “ripoff” of OpenStreetMap created by Google because they wanted to be able to claim full ownership over their users’ submitted data and restrict their users’ use of that data.

  • Great Job,you dude..!!

  • Charley

    “Negoda figures he’s put 500 hours — unpaid — toward putting Kazakhstan on the map”


    Tell me, would Negoda put 500 hours of coding towards Windows for Microsoft to make more money out of it? Or has he, you know, heard of this thing called “open source”?

  • Awesome story!! He has put so much of time and effort, all for passion!!

  • scai

    Indeed awesome. But as already mentioned, it would be very nice if you consider contributing your collected data also to a free project like OpenStreetMap where there is a much greater benefit from it in the long run.

  • Gary

    well done

    obviously a talented lad

  • Google Map Maker is sort of a black hole where you upload your data, but don’t get the rights to use it later, you can merely look at it through google’s interface, lick it through the glass. It’s the same thing Google did to Wikipedia when their started their own ripoff called Knol. It’s harmful because it splits people between two projects and instead of having a single quality map you get two poor quality ones.

    It also tricks people like Negoda who genuinely want to make a good freely usable map into spending their efforts in the wrong placem, unknowingly. I find this sad.

  • KNB

    Arrest warrant: Kyril Negoda

    Issued by: KNB on behalf of the Kazakh law enforcement authorities

    Concept: For threatening peace and social order by making maps without a permit.

    Signed by order of our dear leader

    Nursultan Nazarbayev

  • Ben

    I agree with the comments on OpenStreetMap! Contributing to Google Maps is working for free and giving away your work to a company, working for OpenStreetMap is working for yourself and the community. Companies and people in Kazakhstan will not be able to use Google Maps for free, not even regular users use Google Maps for free, we all contribute by looking at ads!

    Google does not give anything away for free!

  • Josh

    Perhaps he would be willing to contribute his GPS traces and notes for use in improving OpenStreetMap?

  • brad

    OpenStreetMap has pretty comparable detail vis a vis Google in Kazakhstan. For instance, see the larger city of Karagandy, to the east of Shakhtinsk. Looks like there’s a decent OSM community there!

  • Dima

    OpenStreetMap definitely rules guys…

    I am myself MapMaker with quite a bit of contributions… However after the conference in Singapore I was little bit discouraged from working for them for free. Yes, you contribute your time to make maps available in your community for free, but as many already said you are very restricted in how you can use this data. You are not even allowed to export your own edit in a raw or any other format . With OpenStreetMap it is just an opposite. You can do whatever you like with the data. There are countless projects ran by people like you that already use the GIS data. Just a simple example, you can download uptodate data from OpenStreetMap to your GPS absolutely for free. It is so useful even in well developed countries with excellent maps, not to mention remote locations.

    I am not saying that you should stop contributing to MapMaker, as both projects can co-exist and hopefully even join their effort some day, but at least give OpenStreetMaker a try guys, I am sure you will love it!

  • sly

    “It’s sort of a Wikipedia model” you said ?

    Well, sorry to say that, but it’s far from it.

    Wikipedia’s articles content is free to be re-used for any purpose YOU wish.

    With GMM it’s free to be re-used for any purpose GG wishes.

  • Christian

    Openstreetmaps might not have a great website, but the underlying free geo data is a treasure Google Maps will never offer.

  • Xaero

    I dont see why you want a long term benefit out of such a social cause. Contribute to a place that is used by a majority of your fellow citizens and they will thank you back.

    Kyril, great job indeed.

  • Srini vas

    Good ! keep Mapping 🙂