Online maps ‘wiping out history’ (BBC)

[Editor’s note: Perhaps a bit alarmist but does point to the changing role of maps from conveyances of static sets of edited knowledge into a digital tabla rasa that displays the “where” of an individual user’s search results. Cultural landmarks that used to be included on maps for spatial orientation and perhaps a bit of boosterism are being left off the initial view. Users now have to know a feature exists before it is shown to them or ask for a certain overlay layer. But perhaps this is a reflection, too, on a society where the mainstream has been turned into 1000 separate channels? Or a jaded appreciation of information overload instead leaves us with a dirth of map information. Perhaps cartographic editors are good, after all. Thanks Curt!]

Reprinted from the BBC.

Internet mapping is wiping the rich geography and history of Britain off the map, the president of the British Cartographic Society has said.

Mary Spence said internet maps such as Google and Multimap were good for driving but left out crucial data people need to understand a landscape.

Mrs Spence was speaking at the Institute of British Geographers conference in London.

Google said traditional landmarks were still mapped but must be searched for.

Ms Spence said landmarks such as churches, ancient woodlands and stately homes were in danger of being forgotten because many internet maps fail to include them.

Ordnance Survey map of central London. BBC licence number 100019855, 2008.

Traditional maps feature landmarks such as museums and art galleries

She said: “Corporate cartographers are demolishing thousands of years of history – not to mention Britain’s remarkable geography – at a stroke by not including them on maps which millions of us now use every day.

“We’re in real danger of losing what makes maps so unique, giving us a feel for a place even if we’ve never been there.”

Projects such as Open Street Map, through which thousands of Britons have contributed their local knowledge to map pubs, landmarks and even post boxes online, are the first step in the fight back against “corporate blankwash”, she added.

Missing landmarks

By way of example, Ms Spence said that if someone walked around the South Kensington area of London, they would encounter landmarks such as the Science Museum, Royal Albert Hall and the Natural History Museum, which could not be found on Google Maps.

Elsewhere, Worcester Cathedral and Tewkesbury Abbey are not on their respective Google Maps.

Mary Spence and Adrian Miles discuss internet mapping

“But it’s not just Google – it’s Nokia, Microsoft, maps on satellite navigation tools. It’s diluting the quality of the graphic image that we call a map.”

Ms Spence believes that the consequence will be long-term damage to future generations of map readers, because this skill is not being taught in schools and people are simply handling “geographical data”.

But Ed Parsons, geospatial technologist at Google, said the way in which people used maps was changing.

He said: “Internet maps can now be personalised, allowing people to include landmarks and information that is of interest to them.

“Anyone can create their own maps or use experiences to collaborate with others in charting their local knowledge.

“These traditional landmarks are still on the map but people need to search for them. Interactive maps will display precisely the information people want, when they want it.

“You couldn’t possibly have everything already pinpointed.”

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2 Responses to “Online maps ‘wiping out history’ (BBC)”

  1. [...] Online maps ‘wiping out history’ (BBC) [kelso cartography]: EXCREPT: “Perhaps a bit alarmist but does point to the changing role of maps from conveyances of static sets of edited knowledge into a digital tabla rasa that displays the “where” of an individual user’s search results. Cultural landmarks that used to be included on maps for spatial orientation and perhaps a bit of boosterism are being left off the initial view. Users now have to know a feature exists before it is shown to them or ask for a certain overlay layer. But perhaps this is a reflection, too, on a society where the mainstream has been turned into 1000 separate channels? Or a jaded appreciation of information overload instead leaves us with a dirth of map information. Perhaps cartographic editors are good, after all.” [...]

  2. [...] Online maps ‘wiping out history’ (BBC) [kelso cartography]: EXCREPT: “Perhaps a bit alarmist but does point to the changing role of maps from conveyances of static sets of edited knowledge into a digital tabla rasa that displays the “where” of an individual user’s search results. Cultural landmarks that used to be included on maps for spatial orientation and perhaps a bit of boosterism are being left off the initial view. Users now have to know a feature exists before it is shown to them or ask for a certain overlay layer. But perhaps this is a reflection, too, on a society where the mainstream has been turned into 1000 separate channels? Or a jaded appreciation of information overload instead leaves us with a dirth of map information. Perhaps cartographic editors are good, after all.” [...]