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Google Doing Good in Japan

Street View, repurposed
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Google is doing its best to make good with the people of Japan. After more than a decade in the country, Google is hoping to transform privacy-conscious Japanese Internet users into proponents of one of the world’s biggest names on the Web.

Currently, Google holds just less than 40 percent of all search page views in Japan, compared to the more than 50 percent enjoyed by Yahoo Japan. One of the bigger snafus suffered by the Internet giant in the country was the use of its controversial 360-degree Street View cameras to augment its Google Maps service.

However, following the devastating tsunami that both captivated and horrified the world earlier this year, Google is trying to do a bit of good for the people of Japan by putting those loathed cameras to a different kind of task. Senior Google product manager Kei Kawai is leading a project that will document and archive the damage that the tsunami left in its wake and will photo-document the progress of cleanup and reconstruction. Heavily damaged areas along the coast have already signed on to the project.

Kawai’s new project is the latest attempt by Google to be proactive in Japan following the historic natural disaster. It wasn’t long after the tsunami struck that the company’s engineers and developers created Person Finder, a site dedicated to publishing information about the status of residents in affected areas. The project was a spin-off of an earlier application used in the aftermath of the earthquake in Haiti last year.

It is unclear if Google’s good work will pay off with a boost in Japanese users, but some are optimistic. Nobuyuki Hayashi, a journalist and technology consultant, told The New York Times that he believes the new initiatives could bring Google’s presence in the country to the fore. "I don’t know if ordinary Japanese are suddenly going to start using Google search, but several of Google’s services are becoming lifelines for people in the disaster zone," Hayashi told the Times. "If these services can contribute to the region’s recovery, Google will bolster its presence in Japan."