Internet maps and map use International perspective

Internet maps and map use International perspective


Michael Peterson
Michael Peterson
Professor, University of Nebraska at Omaha
Omaha, Nebraska, USA
Chair, ICA Commission on Maps and the Internet
Email: [email protected]
While we don’t know when the first map was made, the last one was created just a fraction of a second ago. No longer restricted to paper, maps are now transmitted almost instantly and delivered to the user in a fraction of the time required to distribute maps on paper. They are also viewed in a more timely fashion. The paper discusses the growth of map use, espacially internet map use, over time

The Internet is redefining how maps are used. Maps on the Internet are more interactive. They may be constructed by interacting with an online database, thus engaging the map user on a higher level than is possible with a map on paper. In addition, the Internet is making it feasible to more easily distribute different kinds of cartographic displays such as animations. The Internet presents the map user with both a faster method of map distribution and different forms of human-map interaction.

The adoption of the Internet has been particularly dramatic since the mid-1990s. The number of users has increased rapidly as the technology has spread beyond North America and Europe. For the distribution of maps, three major changes in the development of the Internet can be identified. In the first stage, paper maps were simply scanned and distributed like pictures. In the second stage, beginning in about 1997, the Web emerged as a major form of delivery. In the third stage, the continued development of this form of map delivery is dependent on solving specific problems related to map delivery, map design and map use. Solutions to these problems are technical and philosophical, and will have a major influence on how cartography develops in the future. Further, these issues will require international cooperation in their solution.

Maps and the Medium
It is impossible to know when the first map was made. The pictures of animals that have been discovered on cave walls from between 10,000 and 20,000 years ago are an indication that these early humans could represent objects from the real world in abstract form as a series of lines and shapes. The necessity for humans to communicate information about the environment makes it likely that maps were drawn much before this time – perhaps with a stick in sand, to be destroyed long ago by the agents of weathering.

While we don’t know when the first map was made, the last one was created just a fraction of a second ago. It was a map that was constructed on an Internet map server and subsequently transmitted through the Internet as electronic impulses and viewed on a computer monitor. No longer restricted to clay tablets or even paper, maps are now transmitted almost instantly from place to place. The number of maps distributed through the Internet is phenomenal. Individual websites now respond to nearly a million map requests every hour (Nofi, 2001). An important milestone was reached sometime during the latter part of the 1990’s as more maps were being transmitted through the Internet than were being printed on paper.

The meaning of maps in a technological world is particularly important. Advancements in the sciences, in the exploration for resources, and in other areas of study are the result of a continued emphasis on the analysis of data in visual form. What people derive from these displays is information – information that is of incalculable value. It is this information that ultimately gives meaning to mapping. For centuries, paper has been used as the medium of cartography. The computer began to be used in the 1960s and soon evolved as a display device for maps. Then, the computer and communications technology combined to create a new method of map distribution.

Alan Kay (1977), who conceived of the Dynabook and whose design work led to the development of the graphical user interface, argues that the computer is not a tool or an instrument, but a medium.

Marshall McLuhan argued in the 1960s that electronic technology is the medium of our time and is reshaping and restructuring all aspects of life (Miller 1971). McLuhan’s main concern was with the pervasive effect of the medium. Particularly critical of the written word because it has forced us to attend to the recognition of text at the expense of all other sensory stimuli, he argues that this sensory impoverishment was further magnified by printing. In addition, McLuhan argues that we live in a rear-view mirror society (Theall 1971). He states that all new forms of media take their initial content from what preceded them.