People Who Care About Map Projections … And People Who Don’t

Whenever you look at a map, be it on the web, on your mobile or on your wall there’s a compromise. The compromise is the map’s projection. Or to put it another way, the way in which the roughly spherical lump of rock we live on can be unwrapped and displayed in a flat, two dimensional manner.

There’s lots of way of doing this and the ways come with wonderful, almost eccentric sounding names. There’s the pseudo-cylindrical projections; Sanson-Flamsteed, Luximuthal or Kavrayskiy’s Fifth Projection (no idea what happened to the first four). There’s the conic projections; Lambert’s Conformal or War Office Polyconic. There’s the pseudo-conic projections; Stabius-Werner and Bonne. Or there’s the modified azimuthal projections; Wiechel’s or Winkel’s Tripel Projection.

There’s just so many ways of projecting the Earth onto a map. But there’s also the one we’re all familiar with. It’s Gerardus Mercator’s Projection and we’ve been using it, probably without knowing it, since 1569 and it’s showing no sign of going away.

So in the end, it all boils down to this …

Web Maps Projections

… which group are you in?

Cartotastic image fun by Tobin Bradley at Fuzzy Tolerance thanks to CC-BY-SA.
Written and posted from home (51.427051, -0.333344)

Written by Gary

Husband, Father, geotechnologist, map geek, coffee addict, Sci-fi fan, UNIX and Mac user.



I sort of do give a shit. But every projection is a compromise, right? I suppose the only shortfall is that there will still be a big % of users who don’t really understand that, and accept that Mercator’s map is the way the world really is. But with web maps being more about the location of the user at ground level, does it really matter that zoomed out, Greenland is out of whack?


I care too, but I’m a dyed in the wool maps geek so that goes with the territory. Actually, I like pretty much all the projections there are; sometimes an alternate perspective is what you need. I guess that means I fit squarely in the “give a shit” group. That’s something to be proud of I think; nice to know there’s a kindred spirit as well.


Be nice to see the option to view all web-based maps in the projection of your choice. Just to see how many people actually bothered to switch from Mercator!

I don’t really fit into the map geek category (my mapping attachment is emotional, not particularly practical!), but I do think it matters that, unless you have a particular interest in navigation or maps, there’s a fair chance you’ll see Mercator as an accurate representation. I reckon the majority of people do still take maps at face value as somehow ‘true’ and objective.

James C

I take it this is the first of a series and we can look forward to pieces on spheroids, the geoid, datums (mmm, data doesn’t seem correct!), scale factors, parallels, meridians, spherical trig….it all comes flooding back – and if the late Dougie Mason of UCL could see me now he’d be surprised given my poor grasp of his courses!). It really does matter and I am certainly in the gives a damn group, which will come as no surprise.


A comment like that is almost enough to want to make me put “likes” on my comment system. Almost.

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