Claire Heald’s BBC News article “The map gap” is an interesting read (and name-checks Ogle Earth — thanks!) but at the risk of betraying my non-GIS background, it seems to me that some of the quoted cartographers are not all that acquainted with virtual globes. First, there is this:
On a world scale, the pictures on Google Earth, and programs like it, look accurate. The view is less skewed than with some other projections, such as cartographic models used to set out the world.
[…] And [Google Earth] still does not solve the age-old problem. On a world scale, all’s well, “but when you zoom in you still get that distortion, because it’s on a flat screen”, says Mr Lennox.
I would argue that 2D representations on computer screens of 3D virtual globes are not skewed or distorted at all. They show exactly what a one-eyed astronaut or one eyed airline passenger would see. But even if I was wrong on that point (and I don’t concede it), wouldn’t zooming in on Earth reduce distortion, as you’re getting less and less curvature to deal with? The analog with maps is that on the most local scales, the Earth really is flat, so distortion disappears.
My one other criticism concerns this quote, by Steve Chilton, chair of the Society of Cartographers:
“Google Earth is just the satellite image. It doesn’t show us land use, slope, precipitation. So the need for cartographers still exists. The paper map hasn’t died.”
But in fact Google Earth, NASA World Wind and the upcoming ESRI ArcGIS Explorer can show us these kinds of data — exported from the same datasets with the same professional tools that are also the backbone of paper maps. Whether the operators of these tools call themselves cartographers or GIS specialists is a matter of semantics. The advantage of paper maps is that they don’t run out of batteries. The advantage of virtual globes is that they can show live data — interactively, and without distortion.
No, the paper map hasn’t died, but it is suffering the same fate as paper editions of newspapers.