Another person is wrong on the internet! Let me dispense with her arguments anon so we can finally get back to regularly scheduled blogging (as I will have my backlog nearly cleared)…
Internet maps will make us forget our culture: So warned Mary Spence, President of the British Cartographic Society, at a session on the Future of the Map at the annual conference in London of the Royal Geographical Society held on Aug 28. Google’s own Ed Parsons was on hand to offer a rebuttal. Said Spence:
Corporate cartographers are demolishing thousands of years of history — not to mention Britain’s remarkable geography — at a stroke by not including them on maps which millions of us now use every day. We’re in real danger of losing what makes maps so unique; giving us a feel for a place even if we’ve never been there.
Spence argues that the answer is Open Street Map, a wonderful crowdsourcing effort to create a Creative Commons dataset of maps and points of interest (POIs), in effect duplicating Google’s efforts but without the proprietary ownership model for the resulting data. She likes them because OSM in the UK shows POIs by default, showing churches but also public parking garages, pubs, mailboxes, bus stops and bike paths. Here’s an OSM closeup of Cambridge:
But what if I’m not interested in pubs, or don’t have a car I need to park? And further down the line, who decides what is appropriate to add to a default layer — are pubs in Cairo an OK addition to OSM’s base layer? What about places of worship in the UK that are not in old church-like buildings? Isn’t it just more useful to separate the base map from the POIs and let users add layers for churches — or beer — if they are so inclined? Isn’t the presumption of monolithic culture something we’re trying to outgrow? (And hasn’t Google made it ridiculously easy, BTW, to turn on such layers in Google Earth, even including layers with photos of landmarks where the density of photo placemarks is excellent proxy for relative cultural importance?)
Second, Spence is convinced that UK Ordnance Survey maps would never make the mistake of omitting her beloved cathedrals from their default map. In that case, a solution to all her problems is at hand: Have the Ordnance Survey release its maps to the online public, just as Google and Microsoft and Yahoo have done. Better yet, have OS mine its geo-database and publish to the public domain standards-compliant KML for all UK cathedrals, all battles, all historical monuments — just as the Swedes have done — so that map users like Mary Spence will never again be forced to look at a context-free “corporate” map.
Perhaps Spence could ask nicely?