Governments and authorities like maps. They're a useful way of clearly saying this is mine, that is yours. They're also useful for saying where you can and more importantly, where you can't go. This is all too evident in a surprising map of where Russian visitors to the US were permitted to visit during the 1950s.
In January of this year I made a hopeful prediction that 2013 would be the year of the tangible map.
This hope was prompted by the maps I saw at one of London’s geomob meetups in November of 2012, where I saw and, importantly for a tangible map, touched Anna Butler’s London wall map and a prototype of David Overton’s SplashMap.
The hopeful prediction was made as a result of literally getting my hands on one of Anna’s London maps and it’s a treasured possession, though still sadly needing a suitable frame before it can take pride of place on a wall at home.
But what of SplashMaps? In November 2012 the project was on Kickstarter and I was one of the investors in this most tangible of maps. In December 2012 Splashmaps met their funding targets and went into production and today, through the letterbox came my own, tangible, foldable, scrunchable and almost indestructible SplashMap of my local neighbourhood.
Now all if this could be taken to be simply my crowing with delight over maps. But there’s a deeper context to all of these tangible maps. Both the London Wall Map and SplashMaps have come about due to one single thing … open data. The case has often been made, though equally as often misunderstood, that open data is an economic stimulus. As many people ask why should we give something away for free as ask for data to opened up to the public.
Both of these maps wouldn’t have been financially possible without access to open data; the pre-open data era licensing costs and restrictions alone would have put paid to any startup opportunities an aspiring entrepreneur came up with. But in these maps, the proof of what open data can do has become very real, indeed very tangible.
The boundaries of Europe’s constituent countries have changed a lot in my lifetime. Some countries don’t exist anymore whilst others have come into existence. But it takes a map visualisation to make you realise just how much the map of Europe has changed.
Actually, it takes two map visualisations. The first, courtesy of the BBC, dates from 2005 and covers the years between 1900 and 1994. Starting wit Imperial Europe and fast forwarding though two world wars, plus the Cold War and taking in the collapse of the Communist Bloc and the expansion of the European Union.
The other map takes a much wider view, ranging from 1000 AD to the present day. It’s oddly fascinating to watch the Holy Roman and Byzantine Empires go from dominance to vanishing entirely.
But the purist in me finds as much to dislike as to like in both of these maps. The BBC one is just two small and cries out for the ability to pan and zoom the map. For some unexplained reason, the map is … tiny and, though I hesitate to use the word in this content, the cartographer has obviously been experimenting with differing shades of colour to try and clearly delineate the countries but didn’t experiment hard enough.
The LiveLeak map is also small and while the video containing the map can be enlarged to full screen, there’s a loss of crispness to the map. For a map with such a wide timespan, it would have helped massively to have some kind of timeline accompanying the animation, so you can see just where in history you are.
Two maps. Both interesting. Both, for me, ultimately flawed. This sort of map just cries out to be reworked. If only I could find a suitable boundary data set spanning over a thousand years.
Some maps are works of art; this miniature marvel is no exception. You’d be forgiven for thinking it’s deserved of a place hanging on someone’s wall, but the truth is that this map is far more likely to end up in a rubbish bin.
That’s because this marvellous miniature map lives on the cover of a box of matches and empty boxes of matches have a very short shelf life before they end up in the rubbish. Which is a crying shame as this beautiful map with Mount Fuji in the background, a house and what looks like a tram deserves a kinder fate than that.
Back in February of this year, at the height of the madness that was the Vaguely Rude Places Map, Ed Freyfogle from London’s #geomob meetup got in touch and asked me to come and tell the story behind the map. This is that story.
And so last night, in the Chadwick Lecture Theatre in the basement of London’s UCL, after listening to some amazing presentations on building a map of mobile cell tower coverage, of building a seismically powered alternative to GPS and a whole host of other great talks, I took my place on the podium and started where any good story needs to start … at the beginning.