Maintaining good quality maps with new techniques is a major concern

Maintaining good quality maps with new techniques is a major concern

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Prof Milan Konecny
Prof Milan Konecny
Chair of the ICA Commission on Cartography on Early Warning and Crises Management

Combination of new scientific approaches based on IT in cartography is giving numerous possibilities for map creation. It enables ‘non-cartographers’ to deal with new and popular possibilities of how to create their own maps says Prof Milan Konecny, chair of the ICA Commission on Cartography on Early Warning and Crises Management.

A good cartographer is both a scientist and an artist. With digitisation and automation taking over cartography, how much of it holds true today?
Combination of new scientific approaches based on IT in cartography is giving numerous possibilities for map creation. Inclusion of art into cartography not only makes maps more attractive but also opens up imaginative ways in which maps can be represented. Today, cartographers make maps using not only conventional second dimension but also the new third and fourth dimensions. With the help of art cartographers are trying to find out the new, unusual and attractive forms which make representation of spatial models (maps) more understandable for wider audience.

With the advent and popularity of Google Maps, and volunteer geographic information gaining ground, do you think that the explosion of Web-based mapping has filled the world with ugly and poorly designed maps?
No, I don’t think so. These new dimensions infact offer a wider potential for combination maps. They enable ‘non-cartographers’ to deal with new and popular possibilities of how to create their own maps; how to design and understand them. These processes are adding new values to cartography and opening opportunities for many users. However, one has to accept the fact that some of these maps are poorly designed. But the situation is improving. More and more specialists are inviting cartographers when they like to present their information to the end users in a correct and attractive way.

We are in the era where new forms of digital cartography (e.g. context, adaptive, sensor) are developing constantly. Still a high percentage of newly designed maps are not created by correct means and methods which cannot help to support and find good solutions. Because of this reason it is necessary to use basic cartographic rules, logical systems of map legends and symbols, methods of cartographic generalisation etc. There are many new special techniques available to cartographers today however maintaining good quality maps with these techniques is a major concern.

You have often advocated for ‘democratisation of cartography’. Your comments?
Yes, I did it in many of my ICA presidential speeches. As organisations operating worldwide (ICA, ISDE, IEAS) we should be careful about how this democratisation is accepted in different cultural regions. In many places across the globe the chances for democratisation of cartography are coming and its level grows up. Open data paves the way for democratisation of cartography. More and more governments and political blocs, like EU, Australia and USA support the concept of open access of data. Information and knowledge based initiatives, such as Digital Earth, Spatially-Enabled Society, Digital Europe Agenda also support the availability of spatial data. Societies which adopt spatial data initiative are able to realise their e-governance goals. But there are still many open gaps. For instance, the drivers of above mentioned projects often take care only about the data and not about the way it is utilised by the users. Cartographic visualisation can improve this process.

Interactive maps are now widely being used not only by the academia but also by common people through a range of accessible media and technologies. But good cartography is essential for a good story map. In your views, how geared up is cartography as a discipline to address this growing consumer interest in maps?
Cartography is best prepared for this role. A good map can give more information than information represented through graphs and tables. My research team at Masaryk University, Brno is a member of the TEMAP (Technology for Discovering of Map Collections) project. The project aims to help the laymen in the process of cataloguing old maps and to design tools which will enable them to use geographic information contained in scanned raster files (www.temap.cz). The results are used for improvement and rectification of old maps.

For the government of Czech Republic we have prepared a digital map of public administration which collates all data together. A cartographer has many roles, but his primary role is to decode information and knowledge from maps.

Do you think there is a clear need for the cartographic community to contribute to and learn from the development and use of interactive maps and cartographic techniques that are designed specifically for visual analysis?
Cartography developed the first effective method of visualisation. IT community initially started from graphics which was not so effective in visualisation of geographical phenomena. Cartography enriches 3D models of the real environment developed by the IT. Volunteer Geographic Environments (VGE) is a powerful tool which further develops and elaborates the connection with existing cartographical areas.

I am from the country of a world famous Czech cartographer, Antonín Koláčný, who developed the first theoretical concept of map communication. He explained the role of a cartographer and the user and their connection via cartographic language. Information and communication technologies allow progressive development of closer relations between cartographers and their users. At ICA we have a special commission developing modern approaches of map communication as a holistic concept which also includes Koláčný’s ideas.

What are your views on ubiquitous mapping?
It is seen as one of the biggest challenges for contemporary cartography and geoinformatics. Nowadays, mapping can be done by anybody, at anytime, as they have all the possible technological tools at their disposal. Cartographers have realised that intelligent access to databases and interactive user support can be used not only for the location of suitable maps on the Internet, but also for map creation (art) and modification according to specific and individual requirements of users. Instead of just using maps created by someone else, the new technologies today allow individuals to use cartography in an interactive way, on the basis of their individual requirement. My research team at Masaryk University has used this trend for a project Dynamic Geovisualization in Crises Management (https://geokrima.geogr.muni.cz/).

How can cartography engage with the Social media? What could be the benefits of this engagement?
Social media (Facebook, Twitter etc) is a very big platform for communication which also provides huge amounts of geographical data. We are dealing with volunteer geographic information (VGI) which can be useful in many ways from crisis management to planning of towns’ architecture. We face a lot of bottlenecks, like credibility of data and information and the important question of ethics. From geographical point of view, it is now possible to study how a person moves around in the town, which is their favourite place, and other personalised information. But if we publish this information about a particular person all together it would be a breach of privacy.

Unfortunately, social media often use maps or graphics which are of poor quality and do not reflect all the cartographic potential. Such kind of maps may give wrong information to users and make understanding of geographic information difficult. The society should be trained to differentiate between “good” and “bad” maps. In my opinion only authorised producers should deliver map products to social media. Since this is not possible in practical terms I would suggest a close cooperation between the two.