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Putting the cartography
before the hordes

14/9/08

There is a book called Why men don’t listen and women can’t read maps. I tried reading it once and hated it but then I can  read maps. Another woman who can read maps is Mary Spence who claims that “Sat Nav is destroying our heritage”. She is the president of the Royal Cartographic Society and used a speech to complain that Google maps was put together by “computer people”.

The cartographers are not protesting about maps on the internet because they are less accurate or detailed. They are really protesting because they do cartographers out of a job.

Maps have had mistakes on them as long as there have been maps. What’s special about internet maps is that they aren’t kept up to date by cartographers but by ordinary people. There is nothing with more detail than Google Earth. Show me another map which has my car parked outside my house, or the sundeck of my aunt in San Diego. If there is anything to ignite the joy and wonder of maps it’s Google Earth. It get even better when you add things like the birdseye view in Streetmap, or the street view photographs in Google maps with links to Wikipedia.

Expansys HTC Touch Diamond advert

Systems like Trafficmaster give dynamic traffic information – something no paper map can. And if you think the Marauders Map is confined to the fiction of Harry Potter it won’t be long before our mobile phones are regularly giving mapping information to our loved ones. Post a photo taken from your mobile to Flikr and the position is attached to the picture.

Millions of people with millions of phones updating a map is much more likely to give the very thing the cartographers says doesn’t exist: Rich, warm details of what you’ll find in a place. You can understand why they are scared. The digital maps that Ms Spence dislikes can be dynamic. They can tell you which car parks have spaces. The networks can work out that if lots of people are avoiding a route then it’s blocked. There might be a romance to “there be dragons” type maps and they have their place as art but for both the science and the intellectual curiosity of exploring places you can’t get to visit an internet map overlaid on a satellite photograph is not only going to be more accurate it will be more stimulating.

Cat Keynes publishes her thoughts on the mobile phone industry every Sunday at www.catkeynes.com you can read the column  the previous Friday by subscribing here.

Links

Hooray, some money has been found for Bletchley Park the home of the computer. And they had a party to try and persuade more people to put their hands in their pockets. IBM and PGP have since done so.

The problem with clever text input techniques is that no-one can be bothered to learn them. Microwriting, Graffiti and loads of others have been and gone but the T9 pedigree of Swype might help this touch-screen technology.

If you fancy having your own mobile base station – that should fix your reception problems. There is one for auction here.


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