MAPS AND THE INTERNET: WHAT A MESS IT IS AND HOW TO FIX IT!

M.P. Peterson

University of Nebraska at Omaha

mpeterson@unomaha.edu

 

The promise of the Internet for cartography has faded into stark realities of commercialism, connectivity problems and confusion about what represents quality in Internet mapping. Despite considerable effort with online vector formats, including SVG, raster maps still predominate on the Web. Interaction with the online map, the single greatest advantage of maps and the new medium, has been either poorly implemented or not incorporated at all with many online maps. The commercial aspect of the Internet has been turned upside down. We pay to access the Internet, not for its content. As a result, there is little competition, other than for bragging rights, and little incentive to create quality content. On top of this, in many parts of the world, particularly Asia, access by computer is expensive or inconvenient and many prefer to use the Internet through their mobile phone. In fact, almost all new users to the Internet are connecting through mobile devices and a small screen that is barely suitable for the display of maps.

 

A de-centralized system like the Internet is impossible to fix in traditional ways. There is no editor or manager who can control its content. Even large countries like China have difficulties blocking or censoring its content. A commercial solution in which the best maps rise to the top based on success in the marketplace is also not foreseeable because we dont pay for online maps. One plausible solution is for an international organization like the ICA to contribute to quality online, database-driven maps that would stand as an example of what is possible with maps and the Internet. Low-cost, easy-to-use tools also need to be made available so that online cartographers can create quality content.