Cartographic Perspectives on the doom of Web Mapping

Cartographic Perspectives, Issue 59As a member of NACIS, North American Cartographic Information Society, I get issues of the quarterly magazine Cartographic Perspectives. Typically it is filled with articles on how to make pirate maps with ArcMap, the history of projections, or other subjects interesting to cartographers.

I was much amused to see that the Winter 2008 issue carried an opinion piece by Michael Peterson titled "Maps and the Internet: What a Mess It Is and How to Fix It". It apparently is a response to a keynote given at the International Cartography Conference that discussed the disparity between map-making tools and the lack of knowledge required to use these tools.

Personally, I found the opinion in Cartographic Perspectives to be short-sighted and lacked understanding of the trends occurring in digital web-mapping. Generally the article is a doomsday scenario about how the lack of net neutrality, internet addiction, government restrictions on access, Google Map, system administration and open-source software is harming mapping and cartography.

The last point is perhaps the most humorous, where Peterson complains that open-source software is difficult to maintain and has less than appealing interfaces. What he fails to mention is how powerful and compelling these tools are now when used appropriately, particularly OpenLayers - which is essentially a drop-in replacement for other mapping libraries. Map servers are getting easier to setup and maintain, geo-hosting sites are showing up, and user-interfaces are getting better.

In fact, he runs the gamut of naysaying the current mapping solutions on the web without actually providing any suggestions or solutions. His only real suggestion on "How to Fix It" is to say:

"...organizations like NACIS and the International Cartographic Association (ICA) have a major role to play in defining the function and form of Internet Maps."

I do agree with some of his overall sentiments. Modern mapping as it is largely represented at this moment has achieved putting maps online and digitized. It has not, however, truly pushed into becoming a new type of medium and utilizing the capabilities of dynamic data and queryable, modifiable interfaces. You can begin to see the emergence of these now, and I believe that the next 6 months will see a whole new round of mapping paradigms. I also think that cartographers and geographers have a wealth of experience and knowledge to share and help guide this {re,e}olution, but that it also won't be entirely in their control.

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Andrew Turner is an advocate of open standards and open data. He is actively involved in many organizations developing and supporting open standards, including OpenStreetMap, Open Geospatial Consortium, Open Web Foundation, OSGeo, and the World Wide Web Consortium. He co-founded CrisisCommons, a community of volunteers that, in coordination with government agencies and disaster response groups, build technology tools to help people in need during and after a crisis such as an earthquake, tsunami, tornado, hurricane, flood, or wildfire.