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Kingston University

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BBC News: The map gap

Mon, 16 Oct 2006

BBC News had an interesting article today entitled The map gap. It covers familiar catographic ground on how we actually represent an ellipsoidal Earth on a flat piece of paper (Nice quote from Steve Chilton: "If you peel an orange, you can't lay it flat and there's never an answer to that"); first year geographers, this is exactly why we have a lecture on map projections and coordinate systems! It then briefly introduces Google Earth (and ilk), mapping websites and the whole idea of "user-data" (e.g. OpenStreetMap) and mash-ups. Whilst the article itself doesn't break any new ground, it is interesting in that it places cartography at the centre of these developments and subtlely (or unintentionally?) asks how the subject can respond to such rapid changes. And this is a good question; will cartography reduce to a niche subject as spatial data users continue to make visually poor (or wrong!) maps or can it re-invent itself? It also demonstrates how mainstream spatial data, visualisation and re-use (mash-ups) have become.

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Comments

Ken Field wrote at 2006-10-21 15:20:

Cartography in its traditional sense IS a niche subject. What is different today is that the individual who used to be simply a map USER can now also be a map MAKER. The use of maps has been revolutionised by technology - more map products are available in digital form and through ever more non-paper mediums. The making of maps can also be achieved using readily available software. However, a cartographer is a person SKILLED in the art and science of map making. Therein lies the difference. I might be able to cook a meal but I am not a chef. Similarly, increasing numbers of people (particularly GIS users) make maps. They are quite often very poor maps. It is the role of cartography to educate map users and map makers to make them better at what they do; to improve maps and mapping and ensure that people are aware of the very issues that the BBC article illustrates.

As an aside - the orange peel analogy goes back decades and Steve shouldn't necessarily be credited with it as a quote! It is, however, an extremely good analogy.



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