How Facebook is Mapping the World

Yeah, you read that right: Facebook is mapping the world.


In case you missed it, Facebook is kind of a big deal. 

A map of the world connected by the Internet. This is how Facebook is mapping the world.

Everyone and their grandmother is using the social network. Okay, maybe not everyone, but they aren’t far off. Almost two-thirds of all Americans and Canadians log on to Facebook at least once a month. Worldwide, roughly 1.59 billion people scroll through their timeline monthly. So yeah, that’s a lot of people. Now Facebook is mapping the world.

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerburg has embarked on a very ambitious mission: to give everyone on the planet access to the Internet. Zuckerburg firmly believes that the Internet has evolved into a basic human right (hence the name of the program, Free Basics). Part of this program involves solar-powered drones flying high in the sky over developing countries to provide Internet access. You really can’t make this stuff up.

Anyway, in order to figure out who needs Internet access, Facebook first needs to figure out who exactly is out there. This is why they are mapping the world. However, since all of this data is not in one place, Facebook has to come up with it themselves.

The way Facebook is mapping the world is actually quite brilliant. They start with Gridded Population of the World, a database from Columbia University that is widely accepted as the most accurate population density tool available. Unfortunately, there is one downside: it has the resolution of a bowl of mac & cheese.

To help this, Facebook bought a whole bunch of satellite imagery from DigitalGlobe. You might recognize these high-resolution images from Google Maps. This is used to give them an idea as to where all the populated buildings in an area are.

Sample images from DigitalGlobe and Gridded Population of the World.

Left: satellite imagery DigitalGlobe. Right: population density map of the same area from Gridded Population of the World.

After this, all Facebook needs to do is have some smart people run the 350 terabytes of data through some complex algorithmic systems and boom, you have your final product.

The final imaging product.

Right: Facebook’s final product.

It’s beautiful, isn’t it? That is how Facebook is mapping the world.


Does this amaze you? Does this scare you? Comment below to tell us what you think!