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Events > Royal Geographical Society with IBG’s Annual Conference

Mary SpenceThe Future of Mapping Debate
Royal Geographical Society
Thursday 28th August 2008

Mary Spence MBE

Transcript of position statement presented at the debate

SLIDE 1 - The Future of Mapping from a Cartographer's viewpoint
Good afternoon, ladies and gentlemen. I'm Mary Spence and I am a cartographer - a graduate in Geography from Aberdeen with a Diploma in Cartography from Glasgow. I started my professional career as a cartographic editor with Pergamon Press and gradually worked my way up to be General Manager of a cartographic publishing company. When I realised that I was losing touch with maps I moved. I now work for Global Mapping and take GIS data and make maps from it. I use the latest digital technology and internet mapping on a daily basis. Calling on those experiences I speak today wearing my practitioner's hat.
So what does the future hold for mapping?.

SLIDE 2 - image of Groovy Maps tourist guide
Is the future a published map such as this, field researched and compiled for the tourist and sold in their thousands

SLIDE 3 - image of iPhone displaying maps
Are we going to forego maps as we know them in favour of the instant, interactive and downloadable version that can be customised to your own requirements - whether on desktop or mobile device.
Actually it isn't as easy as that. There are many types of map, not just maps for personal navigation and journey planning. Here are some examples:

SLIDES 4-11 - geology map, orienteering map, transport map, topographic map, choropleth/statistical map, locator map, maritime chart or even star chart
All of these specific purpose maps are designed to suit the required purpose. Some are paper and some are delivered electronically. Given that there are so many different types of map we need to understand what we are talking about and go back to the beginning to consider the basics of 'a map'.

SLIDES 12-13
A map has a purpose, eg navigation, reference, statistical analysis
A map has a user, eg cyclist, researcher, walker, boater
A map has a message, eg it is not safe to sail here
Furthermore, it should be accurate, up to date and contain the information the user wants AND not contain all the stuff they don't want which would just clutter the map. These objectives are realised through researching your subject thoroughly, selecting the appropriate information to include and editing the data to ensure accuracy, currency and consistency.
Let us look at some electronic maps to see if they fulfil these criteria and are 'fit for purpose'. And to consider for what purpose they may be fit.

SLIDE 14 - Aral Sea from Google Maps
An audience of geographers will quickly realise there is something wrong here. You would be right. Despite the © 2008 label this map is very out of date. The Aral Sea has been shrinking for decades. I understand that the © refers to the licensing date but the average user could be forgiven for thinking it was the date of the mapping.

SLIDE 15 - Aral Sea satellite image
Compare the satellite image on the same page. Again dated 2008. The map and satellite image are different. Inconsistency is a common problem in internet mapping which brings together information from various sources, here with geographical data for the map not being related to the satellite image from a different provider.

SLIDE 16 - Aral Sea satellite image and map with discrepancies highlighted
Not only is the Google Map out of date but it is wrong. Note the white shape to the south west of the Aral Sea. This is a salt lake but it appears in water on the Google map. Also the size and shape of the lake to the south of that is different.

SLIDE 17 - Aral Sea Google map and Times Comprehensive
At least the traditional map is accurate at the time of publication. In addition it shows relief and terrain and gives context of where the Aral Sea is located, rather than it sitting in a white void. The traditional map offers so much more, making it a much more useful product.

Now let us look at some street mapping from different providers.
SLIDES 18 - 19 - Leicester Square
Google, Multimap and traditional map. The Electronic maps are based on the same data although differences appear through the data being rendered differently. Both contain roads, street names and road numbers and very little else in the basic map. Multimap offers the option of a traditional map in the form of OS 1:50,000 or Collins Bartholomew street mapping. Does this mean that Multimap recognises the usefulness of the extra information instantly available on a traditional map? Information provided without having to query the data? Unfortunately in these instances the map images are rasterised from maps created for paper output and could benefit from being designed specifically for web delivery.
Note the footpaths in Hyde Park are depicted in the same style as streets on the Google map. Pedestrian streets are not indicated on the data, giving the impression that it is possible to drive round Leicester Square. This is clearly not the case as can be seen on the traditional map. In addition, the traditional map includes places of interest, hotels, theatres, etc, all of which can be displayed with clarity employing sound cartographic techniques.

SLIDE 20 - RGS location Google and deCarta
Both are based on TeleAtlas data. The deCarta one is the first sign of any attempt to include places of interest as a default. It hasn't cluttered the map. There has been more interpretation of the base data on deCarta. Such an example highlights the problem that often occurs with basic data in that there is so much of it that is left uninterpreted.

SLIDE 21 - RGS location Ordnance Survey MasterMap
Here is another example of data. Lots and lots of it. This is not a map - this product is licenced to users as data for them to customise to their own requirements. The Ordnance Survey sponsors the BCS MasterMap award in an attempt to encourage users of the data to go beyond the default specification and create their own styles and content.

SLIDE 22 - RGS location Google and deCarta
So what is wrong with these skeletal images?
They are not maps. That is what is wrong.
They are just geographical data dumped on the screen with rudimentary attributes. And it is scant data at that - you get a roads layer, names and an abundance of road numbers. There has been no interpretation, no feature enhancement, no landmarks, no hierarchy, no structure.
In other words there is no cartography. With the application of cartographic techniques this data can be transformed into a meaningful map that effectively and efficiently communicates its message. These techniques are not the preserve of the cartographer. Any mapmaker or GIS practitioner can apply them - they just need to be aware that certain things make a difference to the usefulness and usability of the map. It just so happens that cartographers have that ability - an ability that is exceedingly useful in the dissemination of geographic data.

So what is the future?
SLIDE 23 - image of Groovy Maps tourist guide
The future is electronic delivery. Traditional mapping will continue to have a role to play but more and more the dissemination will be online with interactive links to myriad other sources of information. Special purpose mapping will occupy a niche but an essential niche. Precise geographical data will continue to be turned into accurate maps that can be interpreted easily.

- the paper map will survive

  • not every journey is planned in advance
  • not everyone has access to electronic delivery
  • they are easily transported
  • maps are easier to read than screens
  • not everyone is wired into instant gratification
  • the more effort you put into reading a map the more you get from it
  • people just love to pore over maps
The death of print has been predicted for decades and we still have not lost the book. Nor the newspaper. People like to sit and read curled up in a comfy chair. So it is with maps. Armchair explorers, I call them.

SLIDE 25 - image of iPhone displaying maps
The future will certainly be the rapidly expanding instant access, one size fits all product with individuals creating their own versions by adding information relevant to them and sharing that information with others.
The future is also delivery to mobile devices and the use of location based services to add value to a base product.

SLIDE 26 - electronic maps are the future
Electronic delivery will grow and grow
Internet maps will get more and more sophisticated
The quality of internet mapping will have to improve. There are signs that this is already happening - OpenStreetMap, for example, a collaborative venture to create good quality, accurate data. But whatever the source of the data internet map providers need to up their game.
Users deserve better. They may be taken in by all the technical wizardry of it all but in the end what they are getting is a second rate product wheb it comes to the mapping.

SLIDE 27 - cartography matters
In conclusion, I refer to the strap line of this conference - 'Geographies that matter' and claim that Cartography matters. It is cartography that turns a meaningless dataset into a useful map.

Thank you

Mary Spence MBE
British Cartographic Society

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