Saturday, 30 August 2008

Guardian backs internet mapping shock

In an editorial today, responding to the rather wacky concerns of the president of the British Cartographic Society, the Guardian is broadly supportive of Internet mapping, and mentions Open Streetmap. It conflates geo-tagging and mapping, but what the heck, it shows the right spirit.

Rather than comment further on the comment, lets go back to the source: What Mary Spence, the President of the British Cartographic Society, seems to fear is that by concentrating on driving directions, corporate internet maps deny us the rich detail provided by traditional maps.

“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.”

What nonsense.

She sees projects such as Open Street Map, as a good thing: "the first step in the fight back against ‘corporate blankwash’".

But let's not lose sight of the fact that there is a real world out there, which exists whatever the maps show. As the President of the British Cartographic Society knows, there have been route maps for hundreds of years (the picture above is from an 18th century road map - the internet is hardly leading the way); and now internet mapping is adding new capabilities, such as user generated content, personalisation, and so on (which are supported by commercial providers such as Flickr, and Google, as well as by open projects like OSM).

So congratulations to Mary Spence for a clever bit of headline grabbing, which has obviously worked (it has been widely covered). I'm a bit of a fan of Open Street Map myself, but to paint all this as the final stand of a few plucky individuals against the onslaught of corporate cartographers plotting to wipe out thousands of years of British history is taking it all just a little bit too seriously.

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