Tuesday, January 8, 2008

Cartography, Mash-ups and Google Earth

Head's up on future posts: Lots of interesting things in the pipeline: material from my AGU talk, yesterday I was involved in a conference call with the creators of the International Polar Year (IPY) project and I could do with following up on my dafur post from last year.

Amusing map from Richard's talk, from 1902

Today I want to discuss a talk by Richard Fairhurst from the Open Street Map (OSM) project meeting in July (sound file and slides). I came across it because of the title; 'Why mash-ups suck and cartography matters'.(definition of mash up). IMHO the talk can be summarized into;
1 - Google map type mash-ups are useful in lots of situations (example given: Slide 4 adding speed cameras to a road map in the UK)
2 - Because google map mash-ups rely on adding layers onto a base layer you can only add so many layers before you soon reach a limit to their use
3 - In complex map situations you need to revert to cartographic techniques, mash-ups are no longer effective. (example given: Slide 8 and 9, London Tube map which is true to tube connections rather than map scale, which makes for a more useful map)
4 - Building a map with OSM is the best way to present complex data because you can access the base data, this enables you to customize the map, this cannot be done with google maps and other mapping systems.

I think Richard is right in a lot of ways, it is true that google map mash-ups are ineffective in many situations. I also think that bringing in knowledge and techniques from traditional cartography is vital to increase the quality of the online maps that are rapidly appearing throughout the web. Slides 10 and 11 from his talk are all great examples of how cartography can be used to improve web based maps.

However, Richard only refers to google maps, he doesn't mention Google Earth in his discussion. Google Earth can be used to build complex, interactive maps without the need to use complex mash-ups and so is much more accessible for public use. It can also be used as a holder so users can locate a small map within a larger area.

Good Cartographic Design map imported into Google Earth. Slide 19.

OSM is an important project but I think the average 'dabbler' with maps will be put off by the difficulty of using it compared with Google Earth, whatever the copyright advantages. If you download the .kmz


I produced you can also see I started producing an alternative to the above map using Google Earth tools, it wouldn't be as good for paper printing but it was very easy to do.


Anonymous said...

I don't know if Richard Fairhust is buddies with a guy named Nicholas Verge, but they are both from Oxfordshire, UK and they both seem to be vocal opponents of map mashups. Not sure why such animosity by "traditional cartographers" towards map mashups. Of course Google Maps has limitations. So does a 500 megabyte GeoTIFF file.

Richard Fairhurst said...

Hello Richard,

Really interesting post.

I didn't mention GE in the talk because it's not something with which I have much experience, but yes, it's certainly true that Google Earth offers much more flexibility in visualisation than Google Maps. The 3D aspect alone goes a long way to avoiding the information overload of a typical top-down, ungeneralised view GMaps mashup.

What is really remarkable, I think, is that Google Earth is the first significant attempt on the Internet to offer something different to traditional cartography. Google Maps offers traditional cartography via a clever UI, with some limited annotation capabilities but very limited styling. Google Earth and OSM-derived stylistic cartography are very different, but equally valid solutions to this problem.

Richard F

Rich Treves said...

re the anonymous comment, one of my self appointed roles is to try and get the neogeographers and the cartographers talking rather than slinging mud at each other. The NGs have exploded the concept of mapping with new and clever ways to build maps, the cartographers are correct that a lot of sound cartographic principles are being ignored in the process. In giving talks to both communities I've found much more of an interest in each others ideas than would be apparent from blog posts and comments. Lets try and develop a conversation rather than talking of 'opponents' and 'animosity'.

Rich Treves said...

Richard F,

Glad you found it interesting, I enjoyed your talk.

Google Earth has limitations, for example I made the point to a google engineer before Xmas that cartographers hate the lack of label control. However, its huge advantage is its ease of use. OSM will have to work very hard to produce something as easy to use as GE and I'm afraid its already the front runner in terms of downloads. OSM might like to think about packaging its data so it can be easily viewed by GE?

Rich t