SoC 2013 - Mapeat Emptor


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My talk from 2013 Society of Cartographers Summer School talking about some of the consequences of the modern mapping paradigm.

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  • In property transactions, buyers are advised to follow the principle of caveat emptor and be cautious as implied warranty is often difficult to enforce. Cartographers tend to apply the same critical eye when looking at maps but technological change has brought us to a position where maps are so ridiculously easy to make that the basic tenets of map-making are often the last consideration for today’s map-makers.  There are hidden consequences of this modern mapping paradigm. This talk explores some of these consequences and proposes a framework that re-frames the usual basic rules of the cartographic language so that they become useful for everyday map-makers.
  • To the casual reader today’s maps are entirely believable; looking good does not mean they are right.  Fewer maps are made under the principle caveat venditorwhere the map-maker takes responsibility for their product and is discouraged from making a map of unreasonable quality.With competing objectives of building the right map, building the map right and building the map fast the latter often takes precedence.This is the cause of many of the problems and has knock-on implications
  • Generally moved beyond this sort of push-pin map and there are now far more sophisticated looking mapsBut do they flatter to deceive?But does more sophisticated looking actually mean they are cartographically purposeful?
  • Marketeers and a vocal subset of the online community routinely tout the next greatest carto-thing.Maps often made by someone with little cartographic acumen and those who praise it have poor appreciation for what they were looking at.Cartographic equivalent of a sound-bitePicto-bite; a map that explodes into public conscience rapidly and then dies almost as rapidly. The difficulty though is that for every one viral map that has a good-looking corpse, there are many, many more that would look far more at home in a zombie movie.Telling the difference is often difficult
  • Locals and Tourists map from MapBox, Eric Fischer and Gnip.Multiscalecached map of the world showing 3 billion dots each one red or blueGeotaggedtweets. Best estimates suggest only 1% of tweets are geotagged. Some 13% of them don't have exact coordinates.67% of all internet users use social media. People who live in cities spend more time on social media.Only 16% of those who use social media use Twitter and they are most likely to be adults aged between 18-29...and male.Error, bias and uncertainty. You can't make any sensible inferences from a map like thisTweets are blue if the user has posted for one consecutive month in the same place and red for users whose tweets are normally elsewhere. Spurious to say the least.Roads are predominantly comprised of blue dots as are motorway service stations and anywhere else that people travel through.
  • Biggest problem is in the construction however.Two layers of data so they’ve simply placed one layer on top of another.
  • Re-engineered to put locals layer on top.If you’re going to make a map like this you have to restructure the data to merge layers.
  • Blue
  • Red
  • Mixed
  • MapBox's current tagline includes the phrase “publish in minutes”.ArcGIS Online urges users to “create interactive maps and apps and share them…quickly and easily with nothing to install or setup”. The tools to make maps have become so easy to use anyone can have a goNothing wrong with that but quality is something that is often lostWe’re providing tools quickly and easily but where do new map-makers get theoretical and practical advice as readily?Where do they get their inspiration and knowledge of basic construction?Coders/hackers/journalists...arrogance abound
  • eSpatial blog cataloging U2's history of live performances.Basemap is inappropriate for continuous surfaces like this.Even with transparency there's far too much clutter.Labels are partially or fully obscuredScale bar is meaninglessMaps totals... simply doesn't work.The projection is inappropriate... but that said, it's even more imperative to take account of differences between areas and map the data as proportions, not totals.Long time since I saw Russia mapped in red like that on a Mercator projection. Wow! look at all the gigs they played in Russia, oh wait...<= 1. Hang on...less than 1? Could this be a famous half gig? I presume it's one per country.No-one likes criticism but instead of trying to understand errors: "what's wrong with it", "how could we improve it" or even "is it really that bad?“, people deflect it back as some sort of slight on the character of the person offering the critique.
  • A poll of 1603 people in Business Insider by Walter Hickey were asked to answer questions about US States that weren't their own and the responses are amazing....actually, it's not the responses that are amazing, it's the fact that someone thought they could fashion any sort of sense out of the results and then map them into meaningless gross generalisations.Twenty-two non-normalised choropleths in a single article.About 24hrs after going live the post had got over 300,000 views, 30,000 Facebook likes, 1700 tweets etc. A week later...690,000 page views. Nice visibility for poor maps! 
  • Hickey got in touch and just wouldn’t change his maps because they had achieved what he had wanted them to.
  • Easy to drop your data into a map template.Linked burden of diabetes and obesityBut obesity does not cause diabetes.
  • So is it just new/amateur map-makers (hackers/coders) that are causing the problems?Is a map worth more if it’s produced by someone who has formal training and qualifications?But doesit follow that knowledge and experience will likely lead you to be slower and that’s the problem?It’s possible that the reverse is true and that for the same amount of time a better map can be produced by someone with some knowledge and experience.Cartographers have always compiled maps using a range of technologies. Nowadays it’s called mashing-up but giving it a new name doesn’t mean that people with an education in cartography are somehow inferior to those who have come through a computer science route for instance.It’s snobbery
  • Drawn by Chief CartographerLayers overlay one another and obscure detail.Not resampled at different scalesNeeds a composite index creating...simply mapping data is lazy and many maps deserve much more analysis to make sense.
  • European Environment AgencyMultiple layersClutteredPoor basemap useNonsensical measurementsCannot see any patterns
  • Big fanfareCompare cities at same scaleExcept it’s Web Mercator
  • Temporal maps are pointless given they compare different times.
  • Picked as a Top 10 web site by Planetizen based on reputation alone
  • Ocean Health Index map by Radical Media and EsriAgain, a single hue sequential colour scale would work well here. We could instantly see which is relatively higher or lower on the scale.  We wouldn't need to refer to the legend. The map wouldn't require sunglasses.And what of the different sized buffers? That is simply an artifact of using Web Mercator. They are, in fact, equal distance buffers around the coastline but of course in the north and south they get distorted on Mercator and that simply gives them greater map real estate and visual prominence.
  • Esri Topographic basemap – varies across the map
  • One of the favorite past-times for cartographers is to guffaw at poor maps…particularly those made by those who have a limited background in cartography.Identifying problems with maps is a valuable way of exploring limitations and working towards a more useful product.Canbe futile and destructive.Is it really the case that only cartographers have that innate ability to make good maps? Well it may be true that cartographer’s have an edge in applying what they know to make a well designed map but where would cartography be without Beck, Minard, Berann, Snow, Booth and Pearsall for instance?The problem here is that when we pass critical comment on others’ work we need to pull back a little and restrain the urge to pick on errors simply to poke fun. No-one is going to respond well to having their work ripped apart.
  • Beautiful new map from Bert Spaan mapping over 9 million properties in the Netherlands based on an idea from a few weeks ago on a map of BrooklynColours are a problemImproves on spectral scheme but still a problem with blues and reds...which way roundLightness in the middle is also a problem, especially at smaller scales.And here’s the response to criticism
  • There isn't much information about the map's construction except each person in England and Wales has been represented with a dot. The data source is the 2011 census. That equates to 56,075,912 dots on the map.According to The Guardian's Chris Cross it creates a 'beautiful picture of population density across the country" 
  • I struggle to see individual dots.The reason is simple...the dots are too large so in the areas of most people they are coalescing into an amorphous blob.We have no way of seeing any variation amongst the most densely populated areas.All we get is a black fill for the underlying polygons.This also creates the illusion of 'totality' in the sense that the area is absolutely rammed with people to the point of there being no room left for anyone else (is this the political point the map maker wanted to make?).Black is never a good colour to use on a map for 'fills'. Leave it for linework and labels....or make your dots sufficiently small so we can see some detail in these areas.
  • The map clearly shows that the data has been mapped into boundaries.These look like wards...the primary unit of English and Welsh electoral geography.And so the dots are placed randomly within the areas.That's a fairly standard technique for dot density mapping but let's not get carried away.This does not create a picture of population density. Using wards or other arbitrary boundaries means the data is constrained by the pattern that those boundaries create and NOT the pattern of where people live.
  • Good response from Chris
  • My recent impression has been that there is a trend in online mapping in particular where form is overtaking function.Too few map-makers, it seems, are imbuing their maps with good data preparation and analysis and choosing a suitable mapping technique to communicate effectively. Do we want a world of picto-bite mapping or a world of well constructed maps?There’s nothing wrong with popular or short-lived maps but I would like to see the search for the next cool 'looking' map at least matched by maps that convey purposeful messages and that have been carefully crafted.Eye candy sells but it's probably not that good for you in the long term
  • Here's a map from BKLYNR where they've mapped Block by Block, Brooklynn's Past and Present: the construction date of every building in Brooklynn, new York. No mean feat.  Nice bit of data handling and processing.This is a perfect example of a colour scheme totally wrecking an otherwise perfectly good map.If the author had used a sequential scheme (say blues, light to dark) then we could have at the very least figured out the relative age of buildings across the map.The only difficulty would have been working out which end of the lightness gradient was new or old. The author states the map can be used to see how development has rippled across a neighbourhood.  Actually, you can't do that. At best you can see which buildings are similarly dated but not how one colour relates to another.
  • are pointing to what they call a 'stunning map': an experiment by Bruno ImbriziPurports to show real-time tube traffic on London's Underground railway. It's got slick graphics, sound, moving things, slippy rotate and pan. Here we have a perfect example of one of those self-styled tech-guru web magazines getting all excited about something that looks good without bothering to question it critically.  Sure, it looks beautiful (it does..but then so do many of today's s-called viral maps!)'s not real-time and that's just the tip of the iceberg.
  • It’s got even more kudos since being released.So the author has successfully scraped tfL data. Great. So have many others.You can't navigate by it.You can't actually see where the interconnections are.You can't use it as a route planner.You can't figure out where stations are without clicking them all.It has a sound track...why do we need a sound track?Soundscapes are valuable but as a component of a map they should be linked to something and not just as an atmospheric backdrop.You can speed up the trains...why? A few quick spins and you have no idea which way is up, down, left or right.Web-art yes. A map, no, because it doesn't function as a map.
  • Ease of production may lull people into a false sense of the map's value.The investment of time it used to take to make a map was far longer in most cases so map-makers spent longer thinking about detail, about how to construct the marks on the map and about finessing the map.
  • Probably no greater example of derivitive mapping than people’s use of Beck’s map as a canvas for their own workCartography used to take longer because it was important to get it right first time; there was no undo button and so we inevitably wanted that time investment to be reflected in the finished product.Need for speed is out-pacing taking the time to think and work out the map to make it right…so short-cutting by ripping off other work is rife Though there are some innovative uses of Beck’s map, mostly they are boring.Fewer people are creating new work.Quality is being dilutedArt of map-making is being lost and maps all start looking the same.  One-hit derivative numbers by talent contest winners or well crafted prog rock? They tend to be uninspiring and have very little to offer beyond their one hit. Balance is the key else culturally our mapping will become as sterile as reality tv and all those look-a-like contestants.
  • What we are really dealing with here is short-attention span people in all aspects of the mapping process.Demand for short-timeframe map creation is met by people who have the ability to throw a map together.Coherent communication is not achieved in short spans though.Often a conversation is required to develop meaning and short timespans often reflect the desire to get to the point rapidly with very little context or background being developed.We end up with shortened dialogues because maps rarely have much to say beyond, perhaps, a single picto-bite. They rarely invite detailed inspection or curious, almost serendipitous exploration.The consequence of short-attention spans is inevitably seen in many of the maps we see.
  • Researchers stuck GPS receivers on 493 people in Seattle to watch where they went across a week in order to see what their food buying patterns were.The maps are a first stab at looking at the data and guess what...people move through space. they move in different ways.Some move faster (cars), some slower (feet) and what do the squiggly lines and symbols tell us...err, nothing... people move from here to there as they go about their daily business. Blobs are grocery what!In their second video they tracked speed of movement. The claim is this highlights the walkable parts of the city...but if you look closely it actually doesn' just reveals where people who walk...walked. Is downtown walkable...well it will contain more people at certain times of the day who most likely walk to get lunch.  that doesn't mean the urban morphology is any more or less walkable.Correlation does not imply causation.
  • Collaboration between HERE (Navteq and Nokia Maps) and CartoDB. It's called Living Cities.It's certainly pushing web-cartography more towards a higher-quality product and if tools to make web maps begin to provide the ability to design maps like this then that's a really positive move.The basemap is really nicely integrated into the application for instance and uses some clever symbology. But we're still stuck for purpose....dig a little.What does the map actually show? Again, not very much.  We've got some animated pulses (nothing like visualising the pulse of a city for sure) and factoids popup. There's some clicky things and we have time represented as well.  None of this is particularly useful and hundreds of other city maps also take feeds of data and purport to offer insight into daily patterns.  They don't...they just show partial, generalised and randomThis brings me to the general point...should maps always be 'useful'? Well yes...I believe they should but here's the sting: A map's 'use' can be defined purely as an object that is designed simply to look good and bring visual pleasure to a set of data.  There is nothing wrong with stating categorically that your map is designed to just look good.  picto-bites and sound-bites.
  • We cannot remain stationary and improve and so progress in map-making is both fundamental and inevitable.But as I have outlined, it’s the consequence of progress in these areas that we need to better understand and react to.As map-makers, we need to think about a longer term plan rather than the short term. What is the end state? We should spend time scenario planning.
  • Get away from the idea of telling people how to map using traditional language, theories etc.This provides aroadmap and an ability to have a conversation based on the map you are creating.As a discipline we also collectively work to help whichbecomes a framework for cartography.People with wild (fantastical) ideas can still plug in and show us things we never thought about but which add to the ongoing conversation.  This last point might sound a little odd but consider how a barber might approach a customer’s balding hair with advice…protect what you have, be prudent with how you cut it and, if necessary, add some extra touches to get to the desired finished look.Isn’t this what cartography has always been about? We tell good stories by knowing what we have, knowing how to edit until we have the right content and embellish where necessary to communicate effectively.
  • Telling a good story with maps is not just about making any map-type object look good for an unassuming, uninitiated’s about making it work so they get the right message efficiently.In this sense, addressing the output is the wrong way to go about it. We need to address the process.
  • SoC 2013 - Mapeat Emptor

    1. 1. Society of Cartographer’s Summer School Stoke-on-Trent 2013 Mapeat Emptor consequences of the modern mapping paradigm Kenneth Field
    2. 2. Live fast, die young
    3. 3. Tools are easy peasy
    4. 4. Backgrounds are no indicator
    5. 5. 7.30am 2.30am 2.30pm
    6. 6. Culture of criticism
    7. 7. Form is over-taking function
    8. 8. The production paradox
    9. 9. Short-attention-spans
    10. 10. A template for cartography
    11. 11. 1. Consider the effects of what you create in and of your map 2. Understand the consequences of your map-making decisions 3. Take your map-making charge seriously for it isn’t trivial 4. Be aware of both the story and how you tell it 5. Leave the mapping landscape a little better than you found it 6. Build consensus through your mapping 7. Lead by example 8. Limit your desire for the one-hit wonder 9. Avoid being too bound by the technology of the moment 10. Protect what you have, edit carefully, invent when necessary
    12. 12. Society of Cartographer’s Summer School Stoke-on-Trent 2013 Thankyou @kennethfield