So many challenges, so many opportunities

MacEachren and Kraak address the notion of visualizing the world and what this exactly entails. The article was written over a decade ago and is still as relevant today as it was then, and centuries ago. “…80 percent of all digital data generated today include geospatial referencing” (1). A powerful sentence that altered my perspective on geographic visualization (geoviz), when I first read this article a few years ago. There is so much to explore, to reveal; the sky is the limit.  Geoviz is about transformations and dichotomies; the unknown versus known, public versus private, and high versus low-map interaction (MacEachren, 1994). It aims to determine how data can be translated into information that can further be transformed into knowledge. MacEachren and Kraak provide a critical perspective into the world of geoviz and its vexing problems. They do a good job in convincing us that a map is more than a map. Maps have evolved by means that “maps [are] no longer conceived of a simply graphic representations of geographic space, but as dynamic portals to interconnected, distributed, geospatial data resources” (3). “Maps and graphics…do more than ‘make data visible’, they are active instruments in the users’ thinking process” (3).

Out of the many challenges that we still face (also by Elwood) there are some that have been tackled successfully. The one I will focus on is ‘interfaces’ in relation to digital earths. Arguably, I believe that no one would have imagined the progress made with digital earths, especially Google Earth (GE) back in 2001. GE remains untouchable in its user-friendly display, mash-ups are through the help of Volunteered Geographic Information(VGI), including programmers who are contributing free software, interoperable with GE (GE Graph, Sgrillo). However, the abstract versus realism issue is relevant as ever. The quality and accuracy of the data may be low yet the information visualized will look pristine, and vibrant, thus deceive the user to believe otherwise. How do we then address levels of accuracy? Abstraction? Realism? Thus, we have challenges but we also have progress. MacEachren and Kraak’s article refocuses our attention on the pertinent obstacles that we should be mindful when exploring, discovering, creating or communicating geoviz. To move away from the “one tool fits all mentality” (8). To unleash the creativity from within.

MacEachren’s simple yet powerful geovisualization cube.


-henry miller

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