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Cartography is dead, long live the map makers

Seems like only last year, ah yes it was last year, that the bored press hits upon it annual “shock horror – nobody can read maps” story. This year there is a slightly different spin, due to the input of the British Cartographic Society (BCS) complaining that nobody is creating maps like they used to.. 

Modern online maps and satnavs don’t display as much detail, it is argued by the BCS, missing out features like churches, village greens , etc., of course this is rubbish! Most online maps contain more detail than any traditionally designed map could ever do, but that detail is hidden behind an interactive interface, features are displayed dependent upon the level of zoom (scale) or the purpose of the map itself.

Cartography the craft of compiling maps by selecting the information to be displayed and how it is to be represented in print, has a long history, but the traditional skill is becoming less relevant as the final media used to communicate is rarely paper, hence this desperate cry for attention. 

That’s not to say the principals of design are not important in the creation of “maps” for screen display, indeed one could argue for the need of a “new” cartography which adopts rather than ignores the capabilities of screen based maps to portray information dynamically.

The criticism also fails to take into account the biggest impact of the online revolution as far a mapping is concerned, now anyone with a web browser can be the publisher of maps, you no longer need to be a government institution or a large commercial company to produce a map and publish it to a global audience, Mash-ups anyone ?

Will the people mapping the impact of Hurricane Gustav over the next few days, care that perhaps they don’t have the academic qualifications and experience to call themselves cartographers or will they just get on and share useful information more quickly that could every have been done before ?

As the courses offering to teach cartography close down, there is no dedicated course in cartography taught at any UK university anymore for example, the craft/science of cartography has a choice adapt to a new world or face the same fate as  Coopers, Millrights, Locomotive firemen, and Chimney-sweeps!

“Cor blimey Mary Poppins, they don’t need us cartographers to make their maps anymore and no mistake”

If you think this seems farfetched, there is reason behind my Disney reference..

In the early 1990’s Disney Animation Studios was having great success with movies such as the Lion King, Aladdin and Beauty and the Beast. Indeed they opened up an animation studio as part of the theme park in Florida, so that visitors could see animators working on the next film in production. I visiting this studio two weeks ago on vacation, it was shut down in 2004, when Disney stopped it’s traditional animation efforts, as it began concentrating on its own computer generated efforts and the outputs of the young upstarts at Pixar.

I’m sure at one point the animators of Disney looked at the crude early output of pixar and had similar comments to those of the BCS president, lets hope she and the cartographers she represents are able to adapt to the new technology, as the change is coming and the pixar of the cartographic world is an army of thousands of map-makers contributing to the most detailed global map every produced.. The GeoWeb.

Written and submitted from the BA T5 Lounge at Heathrow Airport, using it’s free 802.11 network.

25 replies on “Cartography is dead, long live the map makers”

I am another that has to stick up for OS maps at 1:25k. Great looking maps and a work of art for the fine detail that goes into them. Can happily sit at night and read a map, and plan and visualize my long weekend run in the mountains. There is a bit too much detail sometimes, especially in rocky terrain. The 1:50k falls down with not enough detail.

No mention of the Harveys 1:40k maps. The (relatively) new people on the scene. The Harvey BMC mountain maps are great! They fit the balance nicely between enough outdoor detail, but also the scale is large enough not to have reams of paper flapping around.

What is needed is more “free” online OS or Harvey’s mapping apps. Mimicking the currently expensive mapping software from anquet and memory map. These work well and are very popular so why wouldn’t properly created online apps.

There is a trend towards mapping your sports activities and OS are missing this boat and letting others take the lead especially google maps)

I keep meaning to write a long, long blog post about this yet haven’t got round to it yet (well, I did start one, but it was way too potty-mouthed even by my standards).

But I can’t quite believe the venom directed here at the OS 1:50k. Single best cartography in the world, bar none. And if OS 1:25k is so great how come that it (in Explorer form) isn’t offered via OpenSpace?

indeed technological advancement has taken another dimension and cartographers need to see ways of improving web based map and information rather than just sitting back

[…] There was a time when Google Maps was an ugly ducking. It started life as a road map, and its grey background was decryed at a memorable keynote at the British Cartographic Society annual conference 8 years, contrasting with the classic Ordnance Survey Landranger maps where the spaces between roads were normally full of “something” – be it contours, trees or antiquities. However, Google has been steadily beautifying its functional map, focusing on the cartography as well as the data, as it turns from a map of roads to a map of everything. Cartography on digital maps is far from dead. […]

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