Cartography 2.0: Mapping a Web of Information

Mapping as cartographer James Cook knew it is no more, but yet still fully present. Confused? Let me explain. In their paper entitled “Research Challenges in Geovisualization”, Maceachren and Kraak state that maps of the past were designed to be not only a visual aid to navigation, but also to be a database of spatial information (pg 3) such as place names, bays, coves, cities and related information such as their position (absolute and relative) and the distance between them and neighbouring features, to name a few.

Today, mapping is still very much a graphical aid to data visualization, but unlike in the past, maps are not just a static database of places and locations.  Today’s Geo-Web 2.0 and data visualizations platforms like Google Earth can do so much more than display local data, they have the whole internet as a database (pg 3) and can draw on information located in servers and on subjects all over the world with a single URL or script.

This means that the possibilities of today’s cartography are endless, we are not even limited to two, or even three dimensions any more.  Visual Earths (a 3D surface) can display 2D map data, 3D details such as buildings and topography and most importantly, changes over time with time sequenced raster playback.  In fact, display of change over time in Virtual Earths, rudimentary as it is, is still as good as, if not better than, many of the solutions proposed by GIScientists for use in traditional GIS analysis.

In conclusion, mapping today is just as useful as traditional maps, but more so.  We may not all be Cook, but we have access to a very powerful set of geo-visualization and analysis tools today that can only spell great things for our future and the future of GIS.


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