Archive for Maps

Should You be Making Maps?


A couple of recent blog discussions reminded me of an age-old controversy around computers. Computers automate tasks and allow wider information access, making it easier for more people to do more things with more information. The computer tools continue to improve as more data goes online, thereby accelerating this ongoing trend. Clearly, this has changed many common human activities and given the masses the tools to do things once done by limited circles of people.

Activity in the world of maps, with the rapid growth of online mapping technologies and geographic data, reflects this trend. However, along with the automation comes some heated discussions about the role of professionals.

Google’s Ed Parsons, in “Cartography is dead, long live the map makers” argues that because the display mechanism for maps is now usually computer screens and not paper, that the skill is becoming less relevant.  As I commented on his blog, I think the paintbrush treatment of a complex subject does it some disservice. Do we need cartographers to make all maps? Absolutely not. Do we need them for some maps? Absolutely yes. We also need maps, online or paper, to reflect sound cartographic principles because those principles are based in years of research. Ed’s definition limiting cartography to print is erroneous.

Importantly, and often overlooked, just because it is easy to make maps online does not mean that it is easy to make good maps online. Anyone can use a word processor to write, yet much of what is written is useless to most people.


Much about online mapping is problematic, not only to cartographers but to many disciplines. So called mashups can combine data that is, yes, geographically overlapping. Yet the data is often from sources of different accuracies, time, and scale. Data sources vary in reliability also. So what results from the mashups? Without proper oversight and discipline, mashups are often meaningless or worse, misleading.

I’m all for the explosion of maps and wider uses of geographic information, online and off. But to cast aside cartography, a discipline that was, in part, responsible for us getting here in the first place, and is still actively improving geographic visualization, is simply wrong.

Along these same lines, Sean Gorman recently wrote “The Professional vs. the Amateur: Thoughts on the ESRI UC” about the delineations between “professionals” and “amateurs” made at the user conference. Sean thinks ESRI and other vendors define GIS professionals as those knowing how to use their software, rather than those with expertise in the field of study. This may be true, yet I’ve heard Jack Dangermond discuss this topic and his main issue seems to be on the data side – people with questionable authority providing geodata to be used by others. There is risk in the map making for sure, but if the data sources are unreliable, the resulting visualization will be questionable regardless of the level of expertise of the map maker.

Simply put, good maps come from good data combined with the application of sound cartographic and geographic analysis principles. Both are necessary and whether they come from certified professionals or not is a side issue.

Nokia Ovi Must Be Good – 50 Cent Uses It

Reported by Beet.TV, Nokia is about to open up its Ovi site for content sharing. Beet.TV interviewed Kamar Shah, head of global head of industry and marketing for Nokia.


“The Nokia N95 is becoming part of the Internet social networking phenomenon, Kamar, says. He cites news gathering and the use of the device by 50 Cent and others.  Users can stream live video or e-mail pictures to friends.” 

As you might recall, Nokia acquired Navteq, the map data provider, and the $8.1 billion deal closed earlier this month. Ovi is for people to share photos, videos, music, and other files. And Nokia device users can sync with their PCs.

Kamar discusses the importance of social networking, but as an example uses finding a restaurant near where you are. Huh? A cursory look at the site reveals little integration of the maps with anything but the phones. For example there is no mention of sharing maps between a mobile phone and a PC. What about sharing maps with friends? Not apparent on the Ovi pages, but I found elsewhere that Nokia says you can share routes and favorite spots with friends. Geotagging photos? Nope. The walking directions look interesting, though. No sign of recently acquired Plazes. Plazes is a service that lets people update others on what they are doing and where.

So, one can download the world in 4GB, says Nokia. Under the Ovi brand Nokia is likely to do more in the future with maps and other location-based data. It’s up to buyers, thought, to learn what they can really do … and understand Da Repercussions.

Festival of Maps Chicago – Geography Sails in the Windy City

festival-maps-Chicago.JPGWith the popularity of online maps, personal navigation devices (PNDs), and GIS we can easily forget that it all started on paper. We can forget the trials and tribulations of those who made early geographic discoveries, those who labored to produce early maps. In a world of instant information about where we are, many of us forget how we arrived to this place. We curse at the online map for not having a new street, while early mapmakers struggled lifetimes and even risked their lives to find and map new continents. We start to take for granted the aerial views of our world, when only a few decades ago the first remote sensing satellites launched.

Chicago is a city rich in mapping history. The first plat map of a portion of the city was surveyed in 1822, with the city plan mapped in 1830. It is the home of venerable map maker Rand McNally and publisher R.R. Donnelley & Sons. Online mapping provider MapQuest started as a division of R.R. Donnelley & Sons. The Newberry Library and the University of Chicago have long been at the center of map research and preservation. For example, the University of Chicago Press edits and publishes the multi-volume series of books resulting from the History of Cartography Project. Replogle Globes, the leading globe manufacturer, started in a Chicago apartment in 1930. NAVTEQ, the large provider of digital geographic information, has its headquarters in the city.

The Festival of Maps Chicago began in November. Dr. Anna Siegler is the Executive Director of the Festival. She told me that the Festival, five years in planning, is a citywide set of events across more than 30 cultural and scientific institutions. The ambitious project started with a committee of distinguished Chicago philanthropists, map collectors and civic leaders. Using the annual Chicago Humanities Festival as a rough model, Dr. Siegler directed the efforts that led to opening day in November. She found willing organizations among Chicago’s leading museums, libraries, arts organizations and universities. Each participating organizations decided how they would contribute. The result is 31 exhibits in 28 venues with 10 lecture programs. Rand McNally designed and printed the maps used to promote the festival.

“Everyone who heard about our map events would exclaim that they love maps,” said Dr. Siegler. “This enthusiasm seems clandestine, though. We wanted to bring it out of hiding.” One goal is to take that love of maps and feed people with real examples of the rich Chicago map scene. With the decline of geography in schools, the Festival can help renew interest and knowledge in the subject.

The Field Museum exhibited more than 100 maps of all types in its “Maps: Finding Our Place in the World” exhibit. Exhibits elsewhere vary from historical (“European Cartographers and the Ottoman World 1500-1750” at the Oriental Institute, University of Chicago) to the modern (“Mapping the Self” at the Museum of Contemporary Art). There is also a local focus, with several exhibits and lectures about the mapping of Chicago. Even the Brookfield Zoo participated with its “Building and Mapping of an Institution” describing the challenges of mapping a zoo.

The Festival goes beyond old fashioned exhibits. Maps in the Public Square: An Atlas of the Next Chicago Region is a virtual exhibit showing how maps are central to the discussion around Chicago’s future.

While the Festival is now wrapping up, others are following Chicago’s lead. Baltimore just opened its Festival of Maps on March 16.

In this age of declining geographic knowledge, the map festival can play a significant role in helping people appreciate the importance and roles of location in our lives and as a way to help understand history and current happenings. It is encouraging to see the success of the ambitious efforts in Chicago. Hopefully other locales will find the resources to take a similar path.

Super Tuesday, Lousy Maps?

NY Times Democratic Primary ResultsThe U.S. primary election yesterday took place in 24 states on what is called Super Tuesday. Of course the day is super important for those trying to become the next president. The event begs for maps to show us what’s going on before, during, and after. Unfortunately, the popular news Web sites as a group do a rather poor job. Here’s my quick take on what’s out there.

Elections are a great time for people to learn about places and their differences. Elections bring out not only the political differences in people, but the differences in people located in different places. Only maps can adequately portray these differences. There is additional detail beyond who wins and loses that someone should map – breakdowns by gender, age, nationality, income, and other demographics. It is impossible to understand what is happening politically in this country without good maps. If only there were more of them.

The Good

The Wall Street Journal puts the map on the top of its main page, with one tab each for the Democrats and Republicans. States are colored shades of blue for the Democrat one and red for the Republican maps, with different shades of those colors indicating the winners. On both maps, by hovering over the colored states that voted, one gets a simple text of the winner or projected winners from both parties. No numbers appear – sometimes simple is better. Nicely done, with a lot of information in a small space, but in a way that makes visual sense and gives people what they need to know.

The New York Times has a few maps hanging off its “Election Guide 2008” page. One links to results details, with separate U.S. maps of both party contests. These maps are big and loaded with information on them and on tables next to them. Click on a state and zoom into a state view with county results shown. The colors are pleasing and the information detailed. A second map shows primary dates, using maps and other graphics to show the distribution. Again here, lots of information and great design work. A third set of maps shows campaign finances by candidate and by location. Plus one can view an animation showing how the financial contributions changed over time. Fascinating material here is not found elsewhere. The Times has by far the best maps I came across.

The Bad

CNN focused on Read more

GIS Finds the Sunshine in Florida

Jason Spalding

The Geo Factor interviewed Jason Spalding of emGISt who recently started Find GIS, a Web site focusing on GIS in the state of Florida. Jason answered questions about his goals for the site and what’s happening in Florida.

TGF: What is Find GIS?

Find GIS is a comprehensive GIS Web site catering to the Florida GIS industry. The site includes, but is not limited to: Florida GIS data download sites, GIS resources (blogs, tools, and user groups), GIS staff contact information (state agencies, counties, and cities), and University GIS Departments throughout the state.

TGF: Why did you start it? What do you hope to accomplish with the site? What have you already accomplished?

I started Find GIS in order to upgrade my Florida GIS Data blogspot. I created the blogspot more than four years ago as a way to assist GIS users in tracking down Florida GIS data and to keep the Florida GIS Community in the loop on related industry news and events. It was also a central location for clients, customers, and users to so they could download their own GIS data.

With Find GIS, I hope to assist GIS users throughout the state by providing them a one-stop industry resource. I am a big believer in having GIS data available as public records as defined under the Florida Government-in-the-Sunshine Law (aka Florida Sunshine Law), which is part of our state’s public record statutes. I also hope to use the site as a platform for myself and like-minded users to make contacts within the industry that are willing to pursue innovative ideas with regards to GIS applications and Location Based Services. Even though companies such as ESRI have been around for decades, I feel that the industry in general is still in its infancy and is changing every day. One of my favorite “pastimes” is to brainstorm about new ways that the power of GIS, GPS, and LBS can be harnessed and applied to everyday life.

One of my top GIS industry-related accomplishments to date is my pursuit of obtaining Palm Beach County’s parcel shapefiles under Florida’s public records laws. It was nearly a year-long saga that I pursued through the Attorney General’s Open Government Mediation Program. Briefly, Palm Beach County had a resolution in place that required any private entity to sign a data license agreement and pay a $20,000 “License Agreement Royalty Fee” in order to be able to obtain a copy of and redistribute their countywide copyrighted parcel shapefiles. The obvious issues were that the parcel shapefiles were copyrighted public records, and were created using tax payers money. Therefore, the records should have been available at the cost of reproduction as defined under the Florida Sunshine Law. The end result was Attorney General Charlie Crist, now Governor Crist, issued an Attorney General’s Opinion in my favor and the Palm Beach County Board of County Commissioners voted to rescind their GIS information policy resolution. Anyone can now download the latest version of these parcel shapefiles from Palm Beach County’s FTP site at no cost.

For full details, please see the early 2003 news articles on Find GIS, as well as the Attorney General’s Opinion (AGO #2003-42) which was issued on September 3, 2003.

A few of my other minor accomplishments recently were getting my original blogspot to the top result (out of 1,000,000+ returns) for a Google search of “Florida GIS Data”, obtaining over 8,000 subscribers to the Florida GIS Data News Feed, and the launch and promotion of the Florida GIS Data Sharing Network. The network is a Google Group and forum of GIS users across the state that share their industry knowledge and resources. The group has recently surpassed 500 approved members, the majority of whom reside within the state of Florida.

TGF: What is your professional background? Your company affiliation?

I graduated with a Bachelor of Science degree in Civil Engineering and currently hold an EI (Engineering Intern) license. I worked within the land development division of a local engineering firm for four years prior to developing a serious interest in GIS in 2002. At that time I started a small GIS consulting business, emGISt, Inc. (Enterprise Management & Geographical Information System Technologies, Inc.) which I continue to run today.

TGF: What is the business model for the site? How will it support itself or make money?

Good question! I need to Read more