Archive for Mash-ups

Should You be Making Maps?

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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.

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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.

Jack Dangermond: “This is no longer a dream. It is actually starting to work”

2008 ESRI Federal User Conference

Today in frigid Washington D.C., the 2008 ESRI Federal User Conference started. I attended and share here some observations on the opening presentation by ESRI’s President, Jack Dangermond.

This is the 20th version of the federal user conference. ESRI officials told me that 2,500 pre-registered, an increase of 600 from 2007. Incredible growth for a technology conference these days.

DC Convention Center

The nice new Washington Convention Center is the venue; the rooms are, well, roomy. The food is decent … but let’s move to the good stuff.

Jack Dangermond kicked off the plenary discussing how his audience is “working on the nation’s problems.” He showed dozens of maps covering about 20 categories of applications including humanitarian programs, emergency management, environment, energy, defense, homeland security, and facility management. The heart of his message was that Read more

GeoGravy for Thanksgiving Leftovers: Mainstream Media Serves Mashed-up Maps, Geotagging, and Privacy Concerns

The Geo Factor offers a post-Thanksgiving appreciation to at least three major media outlets and one industry trade that tackled the subject of online maps yesterday and today. First, the Chicago Tribune addressed privacy concerns of consumers using GPS-enabled wireless devices such as cell phones. The article, It’s getting really hard to get lost discusses how a person could use such a capability to let a taxi find them by broadcasting their whereabouts via a cell phone. However, the article explains that wireless carriers are reluctant to introduce applications that transmit locations of people, fearing privacy backlash and litigation. Businesses, on the other hand, can justify such uses more readily and as with other GPS-based services, businesses will use them first and most.

Start-Ups Try to Plot A Complete Picture in The Washington Post discusses mash-ups that involve geographic information. The article discusses the relative ease of combining geographic online data with other data, such as that done by FortiusOne through its new GeoIQ platform. GeoIQ provides a way to combine and display data from multiple government sources on Google Maps – nothing remarkably new except instead of the typical points, GeoIQ uses what it calls heat maps. Heat maps show data attributes using a color range, similar to how a weather map shows temperature. Even InformationWeek covered the FortiusOne announcement with a color inset GeoIQ map. One interesting combination shown on the GeoIQ site is a risk application using multiple government data sets (e.g. transportation, earthquakes, weather, fire) to illustrate insurance risk.

Meanwhile, the Wall Street Journal article Location, Location, Location focuses on geotagging, the process of assigning latitude and longitude to any digital content. Many photo sites now provide the ability to associate photos with maps. While the article discusses the consumer excitement over this capability, the article, ironically, misses the tremendous business potential of geotagging. For example, utility companies could geotag photos of dispersed assets or travel firms could geotag photos of hotels and other destinations.

Regardless of the applications, it appears interest is high in tying location to digital content. According to the WSJ, Flickr users geotagged more than a million photos in the first 24 hours the feature was available. This may become another example of the masses building valuable Internet content that will have a multitude of potential uses for both consumers and businesses. While perhaps simplistic, coverage such as these articles helps raise awareness of the value of location.