DEDICATED FANS of Google Street View, which lets users explore cities and towns around the world via panoramic street-level imagery, have come up with dozens of applications for the tool, from house-hunting, to holiday planning, to experimental art. The most entertaining use of the service may be “Geoguessr”, a game created in 2013 by Anton Wallén, a Swedish IT consultant. The premise of Geoguessr is simple: players are dropped at random places in Google Street View, without any information about their locations. They are then scored based on how well they guess where they are.

The Economist Today

Hand-picked stories, in your inbox

A daily email with the best of our journalism

Geoguessr is a fun way to kill time. But it also offers a clever way to determine which parts of the world are the most recognisable, and who can recognise them best. With this in mind, The Economist obtained some 1.2m guesses from the online geography quiz, submitted by 223,942 people in 192 countries and territories between January and August 2020. We then used these data to compile a “recognisability index” for each country, defined as the share of players who guessed correctly where they were dropped minus the share who guessed incorrectly. (We excluded games in which a player was dropped into his or her own country and countries that appeared in the dataset fewer than 20,000 times).

According to our analysis, Japan is by far the most recognisable country. Geoguessr players dropped there correctly guessed their location 64% of the time; those dropped elsewhere incorrectly guessed Japan just 9% of the time. In second place is America, which players guessed correctly 79% of the time and incorrectly 40% of the time. Russia ranks third, followed by Italy, Brazil and Britain (see chart). As for which countries were most often confused for one another, 18% of players who reckoned they had been dropped in America were actually in Australia. Spain and Mexico were also frequently mixed up. Not all of the guesses made sense: at least one person mistook Luxembourg for Mongolia.

Germany and Switzerland are home to the best Geoguessr players, followed by France, Belgium, and the Netherlands. At the bottom of our list is Turkey, followed by Russia and America, where players correctly guessed their location just 45% of the time. Geoguessr scores do however depend on how close the guesser is in kilometres to the right location. If borders are involved, some guessers might score highly even when they plump for the wrong country. So picking Vancouver would give a greater score than New York, if the dropped location was Seattle. Curiously, players in Norway, Sweden and Colombia are better at identifying the country where they are dropped than the precise location. In America, the skills are reversed. Americans score about as well as Brits in figuring out their approximate location, but are abysmal at picking the right country.

Such results should be taken with a big pinch of salt. Not all countries are included in Google Street View. Of those that are, many have incomplete coverage. Most streets in Germany, for example, are missing from Google Maps because of privacy concerns; China is also missing, with the exceptions of Macau and Hong Kong. With those caveats, it is still pleasing to be the country with the landscapes and cityscapes considered most distinctive. Japan’s tourism industry, after all, is unlikely to complain.