Saturday 16 March 2013

Some gun crime maps

Would it be acceptable to call The Guardian's US Gun Crime Map a bit of a crime against mapping itself?

Good things about this map:

  • Easily and rapidly produced with free tools...quick to make, quick to disseminate
  • Data has been properly manipulated so it's reported per capita
  • The popups reveal some useful information with good comparisons

Bad things about this map:

  • Easily and rapidly produced with free tools...the author just hasn't spent any time thinking about how to represent the data effectively
  • State boundary overlay data has quite horrible mismatching boundaries and is grossly misshapen around the Great Lakes for instance
  • Choice of colour is poor for a choropleth...single hue sequential would be more useful
  • Legend suggests overlapping classes. Clearly data can only belong to one but the legend causes confusion.
  • Is a single integer really sufficient...the data is reported to two decimal places.
  • Basemap labels are overprinted. Just a function of a third party basemap service not being modified around with transparency and add labels as an additional overlay.
  • No need for the map to be multiscale. You get no additional or finer grained data if you zoom in. Limit the scales or disable the zoom.
  • Popups often open outside the map frame
  • It's Web Mercator...not an equal area projection so sizes of areas are distorted across the map which makes the northern States appear larger than they are in relative terms.

Given the above, the following static map presents the same information far more effectively and avoids many of the problems I've identified.

Don't get me wrong...this isn't about avoiding web maps and reverting to static. It's about making the right choices for the data you're trying to map. In this case, the person who made the static version has thought about how to make the map. We can see the actual values so there's no need for a legend. The patterns of "more" and "less" are more easily seen. Areas are preserved through the use of a conic projection. Labels are on top and there's no background clutter. We're not diverted by interactivity that doesn't reveal anything. I'd probably not use red in the title and the State abbreviations are not going to be understood by most outside the USA.

Bloomberg Businessweek also went for a static version and used the map to make a comment about comparisons with international murder rates.

OK, they have an overlapping class (at 2.8) but the data hasn't been horribly rounded to a single integer. What works well about this map is the comparison. Without comparisons the story is flat. While we can say one state has a higher rate than another the data is given an extra dimension by being compared to international rates.

As an example of a terrific web map on the same subject, Gun homicides in America by Jerome Cukier is everything The Guardian's example isn't.

It's not the same data (it's 2010) but it shows what you can do using web technologies (in this case d3 used to great effect) to add value to the map.  The web page itself provides access to all the detail. The map leads the page and shows finer resolution data but it's a single dataset so it's presented at one scale. No need for pan or zoom. It's time-enabled and shows the cumulative pattern of murders during the year. Each murder flashes on the map and the greyscale pattern builds to show the overall pattern of quantity and location. This helps the reader find a location and also see patterns build. The map can show totals because each hexagon is the same size so visual comparisons across the map are preserved. Graphically clean and efficient; the functionality is intuitive and the data presented in tabular form below the map avoids some of the problems of trying to fit too much into a map-driven popup. The data can be sorted by field and filtered by clicking the map. A crosshair highlights a line in the table when clicked. A neat map, cleverly thought-through and expertly produced.

Of course, coding the map means you need to know how to but just look at what Jerome has been able to produce by comparison to The Guardian! Of course, The Guardian could have done a much better job using their approach so it's unfair to suggest the two are miles apart on the basis of a different authoring approach alone.

In summary...

Knowing something about the academics of cartography doesn't mean you need to be academic but being cogniscant of the craft helps identify what to show and how. Knowing something about manipulative cartography also helps; by this I mean being masterful with your chosen technology. Couple this with a creative approach to representing data and you complete the equation. Whether you're going for static or interactive, getting it right is a combination of these skills and mindsets. The Guardian examples shows what happens when you get it horribly wrong. I see it as lazy mapping...just because it's easy to do doesn't mean you should do it. Taking time to understand what you're doing and crafting your map; making the best of what's at your disposal and making a high quality product simply gets far better and more purposeful results.

Friday 8 March 2013

The fallacy of new cartography

Perceived wisdom has it that the web is the new medium for just about anything, maps included. The map-making process is in a constant state of reinvention. It always has been. Even in recent history, professional cartography blamed GIS in large part for decimating their industry; then GIS improved their wares and making decent maps became possible. Now, some would have it that GIS seems to be under threat (attack?) by tech-savvy web developers. The map is everything. It's front and centre. In this blog I want to offer an opinion on how I think cartography itself fits into the scheme of things.

Javier de la Torre gave a presentation at the SIGLibre 2013 conference in Girona this week that prompted my thinking; ideas that have been swirling for a while and which have surfaced in previous blogs in parts. I didn't see it but his slides are online.  I've given similar presentations on the democratization of cartography before as have many others.  It's becoming a familiar story at many geo-conferences...and the story goes that new tools taking over the mantle from GIS and that they are allowing for much better cartography.

While evolution is important I find myself disagreeing with some of the rhetoric when it comes to what cartography is apparently becoming...

There's no doubt we're witnessing a profound technological revolution but does this necessarily improve maps and map-making. No. Whatever technology has underpinned map-making we have always seen people harness it superbly.  These examples become widely appreciated and lauded. I can point to some stunning maps made using GIS (and previous technologies). Likewise there are some terrific maps being made by people using the current crop of web mapping tools. So why the claim of a new cartography? Well we're dealing with a revolution in who is making the maps for sure, but it's not democratization, it's a new geo-silo. Many new map-makers are new to cartography (but they love geo and maps like we all do); are discovering it through experimentation; and pushing out their work in a medium that can be consumed instantly by huge numbers of people. Many maps made by GIS never got that exposure so people are unaware of them...but that doesn't mean they were never made.

Are all "cartographers" old-skool; unwilling to move with the times? No. Of course there will be people who refuse to move beyond their beloved version of Freehand (for instance) but there are many more who do shift their skillset and take on board new technologies.  So it's a little invidious for new mapmakers to claim they are a revolution distinct from "cartographers".  I compare it a little to a first year student claiming that their work is novel because "they couldn't find any references". What that really means is they didn't look hard enough, in the right places; or didn't know enough about what came before to make an informed judgement about its value to their work. Knowing the history of what you are doing is important. It breeds respect not only amongst the community but also for the work you are doing. We are all cartographers. Some newer than others but that's the only real difference.

Are the examples we see in web mapping that much better than what went before? No. There are new, disruptive ways that are being harnessed to visualize data it's true (some of which are really fantastic!) but as a proportion of the web maps out there, the number that are truly well designed is low. Some of them are beautiful and have a strong aesthetic which is why they capture attention and wow us...but then I could point to similar maps made using copperplate, Rotring or GIS in the same way. Map art has a strong pull factor. What is truly different about web maps to what went before is twofold...the map is no longer one map; it's many maps. A different map designed for each web mapping scale that has to work at that scale and also transform well between scales. Second, interaction now allows  a number of important possibilities from popups to moving map detail that are really only just beginning to be used effectively. New technology demands a different approach to map design but it's nothing new to cartography. Good design takes advantage; bad design makes mistakes. We didn't have to wait for web mapping to come along for Harry Beck et al. to have the ability to create a great map. All that's happening now is we're waiting to see who the current Beck's of the mapping world are going to be; what their innovative work is; and how it will shape our cartographic thinking moving forward.

But let's be clear about the way in which we narrate the shift we're seeing. Web technologies are moving rapidly and the pace of transformation for map-making is phenomenal.  But pointing to great current web map examples as evidence that they support great cartography while at the same time pointing to pretty poor maps made using GIS; or awful geoportals; or god-forbid a "print" map does not stack up. Paper or's just different. Similarly, many of the so-called 'new ideas' for visualizing data are not, in fact, new.  Yes, they are now much more easily implemented and the result more rapidly achieved but let's leave it at that. It's a new technological implementation, not a new cartography.

And what of the idea it's all free? Well it is, to a point. CartoDB is a point. MapBox is a point. ArcGIS Online is a point. They you pay. You pay because actually, free is never free. Hosted cloud services are not free. Servers are not free. People's time is generally not free. Sure, the geocommunity has driven all sorts of open agendas forward (a good thing) to create an empowering open community but behind it all is something, somewhere, that has to be paid for. We mustn't forget that else we'll become far too complacent. Having access to rich data sets is possibly the biggest boom of the moment. It's true that data is now more readily available but really all that has done in a cartographic sense has shortened the path to the map.  It doesn't obviate the often time-consuming effort required to reformat the data and get it map-ready.

How do you deploy the new map making tools? You code. Which means you need to know how to code. Which means if you want to create great work, just like knowing a GIS inside out to produce a great map using GIS, you need to be damn good at coding. It's a new map-making method. Well, actually, it isn't. I created a map using code in 1989 before desktop mapping GUIs arrived. Is coding for everyone? No. It's not. It excites some and causes palpitations for others. I happen to believe it's important, particularly if you are entering the industry but it's not how everyone wants to make a map. It's not in everyone's skillset. My skillset in this area is not as good as some of my new map-making colleagues but I'm willing to learn new ways so that my cartography harnesses the best of what is available to me [ web maps have to use the tools my employer produces; it's part of my job...others use the tools their employer's just different!]

So is new cartography simply about scraping some novel data from somewhere, being able to master web design (HTML, JavaScript, CSS) and then deploy your coding skills in your choice of web mapping tool to create your masterpiece? People point to interaction, user experience, data visualization, analysis and methodology as being differentiating. I'm not so sure. Every map I have ever made, be it on the web or in print has always sought to provide a way for people to interact either physically or emotionally. Even print mapping allows interaction...there's something magical about seeing people touch a map you've made as they explore it. User experience is also independent of medium. Different user experiences are required it's true and maybe this is 'new'; but conceptually, user experience is something that every map-maker should keep in mind. Data visualization? Well, call it what you like but that's cartography when it comes to making choices about generalizing and symbolizing your data to display it in map form. Yes, the web affords new and additional methods but is an interactive pie chart in a web map popup really that different to Florence Nightingale's coxcombs? All maps require sound analysis of the data to make it drive the map properly. So the point here is that the new medium is simply that...a new medium and yes it affords different ways to implement the craft of map-making. I don't doubt the ability of people to harness this new technology superbly...just as others before harnessed what was at their disposal but I don't believe that it fundamentally defines a new cartography per se...just a new cartographic approach.

 Slide 65 of Javier's presentation bothered me...look at the last line:

If I am interpreting this correctly he is saying that cartographers should not necessarily be the people developing the map-making tools or having to know the full technology stack...leaving that to tech folks while they get on with story telling. I disagree. Some of my previous blogs have bemoaned that too may new map makers seem to ignore basic cartography in their work. Their work might be technically impressive but actually, the map sucks. The converse is also true...if cartographer's are reticent to understand modern methods then they can't possibly hope to take advantage of what their is to offer. That said, being a master of both is tough so the best approach is through collaboration. Join forces. Divide and conquer. Making a map using neo-tools is fine if that's your weapon of choice but don't dismiss the value that someone with a cartographic background can bring to your work and vice versa. And from a community that often criticises outmoded geo-silos, if this sort of view is allowed to persist then all that's happening is a new type of silo is developing; one that actively derides cartography, GIS and all that came before it and laughs at those who choose not to code to make their map.

Finally, I liked today's blog How to go viral, every time which effectively said that to make a web page go viral you need content and tactics but, most of all you need luck. Currently, there are a good number of mapping startups and organisations that have lucked-out. They're riding the wave but for how long? You have to constantly reinvent to innovate. Back to my earlier point...maps made on the web have lucked out compared to many predecessors made using different technology simply because of the massive increase in visibility they can muster. Maps made by people or organisations currently riding the wave get a head start because they're the current hot thing. What is the shame here is that there are many great web maps that do not go viral and, possibly of more concern, there are many that go viral that truly do not deserve to. The right map, built right still needs a huge amount of luck to go viral. It's a shame that so much crap gets lucky!

Innovation is vital for cartography. Evolution, rather than revolution is, in my view, the better road ahead. I feel that some would have it that the web has been a disruptive technology for cartography. To some extent this is undoubtedly true. Google Maps has only been around 8 years and look how much has changed since then. On the other hand, I feel that too many have sought to draw a line under cartography and tried to fashion something new from scratch. Don't throw the baby out with the bathwater.

Some asked me to provide a more positive slant on web mapping. I don't think I'm being harsh about it...I actually embrace it and it's been a while since I even contemplated making a map on paper for those that are interested. Change is happening and I'm happy to ride the wave because it's an exciting time for mapping. Bring it on!

Also, some want good examples of mapping. Along with my colleague Damien Demaj, we did some work at the end of 2011 that resulted in two papers in The Cartographic Journal. The latter of these pointed to what we believe are 39 of the best maps ever made; in 13 separate categories that we discuss in design terms. You can see the list over at the ICA Commission for Map Design blog. In truth there are more paper maps than web but we're dealing with a vast repository of maps and web mapping is so new the examples simply cannot compete with what's gone before in many categories. They have a category in their own right but as Ferris Beuller once famously said "Life moves pretty fast. if you don't stop and look around once in a while, you could miss it".  Will the list change...well, yes. Classics are classics but in time some of what we are seeing today will become classics and might possibly replace others as demonstrating the very pinnacle of the craft of map-making.

Tuesday 5 March 2013

Maps for England compendium

An interesting compendium of maps was recently published by a group of researchers in the UK. They extracted a whole slew of maps from various government reports and web sites or from compiled statistics to support a report to the Royal Town and Planning Institute (RTPI). The report itself also includes some additional maps.  It has a secondary use... as a resource for geography teachers with an almost infinite choice of examples to illustrate sub-par mapping. There’s about 80 maps, only a handful of which are well designed.

Rather than providing a systematic critique (and sending readers to sleep) are some general observations. See how many maps you can find that fall into these traps...and which ones clearly deal well with these issues:

  • Gross regional representations of data which will have very little policy relevance at a local level (ecological fallacy)
  • Poorly generalised boundary data (i.e. used as is and inappropriate at that scale)
  • Poorly edited boundary data (spurious polygons purporting to be administrative boundaries, often in coastal areas and including large bodies of water)
  • Poor use of map space and contextual detail (Wales and Scotland could be displayed to avoid England appearing to be an island...Northern Ireland often shown without the Republic of Ireland)
  • Poor titles (often including acronyms that need explaining)
  • Legends that display class breaks to n decimal places (round up)        
  • Lack of labels (makes it difficult to interpret)
  • Poor mix of basemaps and thematic detail (topographic basemaps clutter the map display and reduce legibility of thematic overlay)
  • Use of highly saturated colours (they just don’t look good!)
  • Heavy linework (over-emphasises least important features)
  • Sparse map space with detail only in highly urbanised areas (so just show local maps)
  • Overlapping classes (some areas could fall in more than one class and it’s not clear which they do fall in)
  • Poorly scaled proportional symbols (creates a flat map of data that looks similar but isn’t)
  • Unintelligable wording (gross-linkage?)
  • No need for a map at all (“Great Britain shown for illustrative purposes only” why a map? use a graph!)
  • Gawdy diverging and dichromatic colour schemes for sequential data that has no critical value (use a single hue sequential scheme)
  • Overlapping dots (it masks much of the detail in crowded areas)
  • Random unique colours used for sequential data (and black as one of them!)
  • Class breaks that contain gaps (suggests you should use a different scheme)
  • Poor contrast between the important mapped theme and other background content (make your data tell the story...not be part of the background)
  • Data overload (too much content for one map to handle with overlapping symbology prevailing)
  • Black labels that conflict with black linework (makes them unreadable)
  • Choropleths with totals (most avoid this pitfall...but not all; data has to be relative)
  • Poorly structured data (just because layers stack in your GIS, you need to use sensible drawing levels to make them work on the map)
  • How can sites of active and proposed nuclear power plants possibly cover the extent they do?
  • Symbols so small it’s impossible to see their colour (which is the only differentiating visual variable used)

Finally...ask yourself a single question when you’re looking at any of the the map as it stands capable of properly supporting policy-making? I struggled with most of them because while many of the above issues might be deemed cartographic gloss, without the care that goes along with the gloss the evidence simply isn’t compelling. It’s weak...but worryingly all too often taken at face value and used in anger...and that’s when the real mistakes are made!

GIS and cartography in UK academia

The International Benchmarking Review of UK Human Geography provides some interesting reading for those of us in the geo-industry. Having spent most of my career in UK academia (Northampton University and Kingston University) I find very little of the report surprising and, particularly the way in which they review GIS and cartographic provision with alarm.  Some of us have been saying it for years. I urge anyone interested in the role of Universities in developing the next generation of geospatial professionals to read the document. It makes some pertinent observations. I have a view, based on my experience, that I can add to the document to put some flesh on the bones of why GIS and cartography is in such a parlous state in UK Universities.  These are by no means universal and there are a few really excellent Universities and courses that buck the general trend but here goes...

Poor academic salaries, particularly for junior staff starting out is a real disincentive. Universities want to pay peanuts for novice staff on non-permanent contracts. They get high teaching loads and poor support for their research and are often let go after only a year or two. There are very few young academics in this area. Kingston upon Thames  is an expensive place to live. Senior management routinely offered starting salaries at the lowest possible level that were unable to meet even the basic costs of rental accommodation. Appointing experienced staff on higher salaries was rarely an option because staff turnover was normally seen as a way of trimming the salary budget. Inexperienced staff, of course, add to the burden of senior colleagues due to the constant rotation of mentoring of new takes time!

The culture of academia has become so bureaucratically driven that incessant form filling, reviewing, approval and validation became the daily norm. This was largely to feed internal processes and acted as a means to feed some form of quality control....usually merely a paper exercise.  Young academics do not want to enter this sort of profession, driven by pointless  administration where they are treated poorly.  High turnover of young staff is inevitable. Low turnover of older staff in comfy slippers is rare.

Low student numbers applying to geospatial courses are a fact. Despite the clear demand for geospatial professionals it’s a battle to persuade school pupils that there is a career in geospatial. Geography is still a marginal subject at school level if truth be told; school teachers rarely have GIS/cartography (web, server etc) skills themselves, or resources. Couple this with the perceived simplicity of commercial products (maps on phones), it’s often hard for young people and parents to see it as a career. The map is complete right? Therefore a very small number actively seek a geospatial degree. They tend to play it safe and go for the traditional geography degree...or something with the word ‘environmental’ in the title.

Geospatial focussed degree programmes are rare (and dwindling). GIS is usually done as part of geography degrees and squeezed. There isn’t enough space to fit everything and skills/methods type courses are often the first to be marginalised. Kingston have gone down this route but are simply the latest in a line of respected degree courses to have closed or cut back this provision.

It’s expensive to resource a geospatial degree programme with dedicated hardware, software and ancillary equipment. For only a few students, the cost is often deemed too much. Yes there are ways around many of the costs but not enough to avoid the inevitable. There was an art to fund equipment purchases for our GIS programmes at Kingston...we did well; but to the annoyance of many.

The number of academic staff who have left geo-academia and sought a career outside is proof positive of the state of the problem. Salaries are much better outside academia and the huge bureaucratic and administrative burden that you shed is reason enough to make the switch. The report doesn’t make enough of the quality of life aspect. It needs to understand why people want to be academics and why, after experiencing its demands for a number of years, many leave if they can. People leave for simple reasons - they get fed up of the daily battles and the inability to do their job properly.

There are simply too many geography degree programmes. It dilutes provision and there are not enough students to go round. Students tend to actively avoid the technical aspects of geography; they always have and it’s doubtful this will change any time soon.

Pace of progress in the geospatial industry is not commensurate with academic timescales. From proposal to first intake is often several years for new courses to be approved. By then, change has already made validated proposals outdated. Changing course content once approved can also take a couple of years due to internal University validation procedures. Additionally, by the time a student graduates, their first year is probably already outdated.  We worked around the system at Kingston and managed most of our changes under the radar. It was a necessary approach if we were to remain relevant and at the cutting edge.

It is now impossible for academics to keep up with the pace of change. Notwithstanding structural barriers, there simply is not enough time to update practicals and lectures every year to reflect the state of play in the industry. There’s plenty of free materials available to use such as courseware, online lecture notes and practicals etc but use of this is all too often seen as a short cut and frowned upon...particularly as students are charged for their course. There needs to be much greater openness to the idea that it’s simply not necessary for every course and every lecturer to develop materials from scratch and update them year on year.

Students get disenfranchised when they perceive their lecturers are more interested in their research career and are largely anonymous. They rapidly lose respect and it becomes clear to them that they are being fed dated material by people who seem disinterested. Of course this is a perennial problem since academics live or die by the quality of their publication record. It’s an unreasonable expectation. It’s inevitable that those who concentrate on that aspect of their job do not have the time to meet competing demands elsewhere.

Employers of geospatial graduates often do not appreciate what they are seeking themselves and GIS degrees are often seen as inferior.  Entry salaries are low and promotional opportunities are scarce. Graduate geospatial jobs are often filled by those who have gone on to gain an MSc qualification. The job market is extremely competitive. In short, it is often not someone with an idea of what a geospatial graduate is or what they can offer that is actively recruiting...they throw around terms without really understanding.

Geography as a discipline tends to ignore the very real demand for graduates who have a skill set that combines an understanding of geography with that of a computer scientist. Pushing buttons is not adequate. Being able to code and understand computer science is a vital cog in the armoury of the skilled geospatial graduate. Attracting students to this sort of mix brings with it its own challenges of course. And there are also precious few courses that truly mix the disciplines because geography and computer science are normally delivered from different Faculty silos meaning resource models struggle to support inter-Faculty course provision.

I have long said that the US is 10 years ahead of the UK in believing in and investing in geospatial education. The simple test is this...ask someone on the street in the UK what GIS is and they will likely not have a clue. Ask someone in the US and they likely will.  GIS permeates education and awareness is strong in the US. This is reflected in the fact that nearly a quarter of all geographically related job adverts in the US are GIS related compared to 2% in the UK. Quite simply, the mindset in UK academia has been to marginalise GIS and that approach is now strikingly apparent.

It’s quite possible that the thematic splicing of geography into sub disciplines is no longer relevant. Certainly, infusing GIS across the curriculum and genuinely using it as a coordinating framework would better integrate it. This isn’t to say that it shouldn’t receive detailed treatment in its own right but there needs to be a better approach than simply offering a single methods option. My experience of this is that it doesn’t work. It needs embedding across the curriculum.

Even when you demonstrate innovation and world-leading research and teaching it’s sometimes impossible to convince people of the value. At Kingston we did both but while we had considerable external respect (high research profiles, good graduate employment figures, awards, invited keynotes, strong links with the geocommunity etc) the GIS courses internally were regarded as intellectually subservient to all other geo-provision; and a financial sump. We worked magic to navigate the internal barriers and maintain our international position but ultimately you can only do that for so long.

For me, page 26 is very telling reading. Look at which Universities responded to the review and which didn’t.  My old stomping ground is strikingly are most of the so-called newer universities.  If you cannot encourage an institution that purports to have valued GIS for the best part of 25 years and act as a focal point then you probably have all you need to know about the battle that lies ahead to get institutions to value GIS and cartography which the report is screaming for.

Monday 4 March 2013

Troll kalla mik

"They call me a troll." Actually, that's not true...not everyone. In fact, hardly anyone... It's an odd term that's become associated with the notion that someone disrupts a conversation in social media by posting off-topic. Except that this blog is on-topic. Exploring how a map or a mapping technique might be improved is constructive criticism.  Occasionally an example causes consternation it's true; but what is social media if not a place to share opinions? I could do it anonymously but prefer not to hide. If you're offended by opinion then it doesn't mean you are right.

Here's a funny thing though...if someone has such a profound objection to your ideas how would they know what you're talking about in order to comment on? That's right...they choose to read it! I guess I should be flattered.

(cartoon by FiztheAncient)

Friday 1 March 2013

What colo(u)r is your Crayola?

I'm bored of the "my CartoDB is better than your ArcThing; my MapBox is better than your d3; my map is better than your map..." ad nauseam debate.

There. I said it. It's just plain boring. Boring boring boring.

I'm old enough to have learnt much of my digital cartography through coding, using GIMMS. Then MacPaint, Freehand, CorelDraw, PC Arc/Info 3.4D, MapInfo (yes, I coded using MapBasic) ArcView 3.0, AML, Avenue, Illustrator, Arc/Info...ArcGIS et al., ArcIMS, QGIS, Processing. I've also had the privilege of teaching all of these at one point or another to successive waves of students all of whom grew up getting to grips with the tech of the moment. Now there are some other terrific new ways of doing your cartography with MapBox, TileMill, CartodB, d3 etc. But whether you use proprietary or open, GUI or code, in-browser or desktop...WHO CARES? Horses for courses.

Where is the value in having a debate about which is better? What you choose to use is driven by many factors. Your background might point you down a certain route (geography degree, computer science degree?). Your employment might mean you are more likely to use one approach over another. You might just like doing your map-making in a particular way. In truth, none of the above are perfect. They are all good at doing some things and poor at others. Yes, there's overlap and yes, there are aspects than none do particularly well. People seem to wear their preference like some sort of badge to the exclusion of all other possibilities. My job requires me to use one approach. Outside of that...I use all sorts of approaches.

I do feel strongly, though, that this whole nonsense is missing a more fundamental point. I've heard many claim that democratization of mapping is a win-win; that more mapping means more maps means more geo means more...more, more more... Is "more" a good thing in its own right though? I'm all for more "opportunity" but I am also for more "quality" and more maps in absolute terms does not necessarily equate to more quality. I entirely agree that if there is more opportunity then there is certainly the potential for more great maps but is that what we're seeing? I'm unconvinced. I think the time it once took to make a map is being bypassed and for many people this is simply a short-cut to make the map. But the process has been truncated so profoundly that a lot of the thought about the map is now lost. That used to be time spent thinking about how to represent your data; what choices were important for your map etc. This is often referred to as an "academic" approach to making a map.'s just about taking the time to think through your map before foisting it on the masses.

I'm not for one moment suggesting that democratization has been bad for forces it to constantly adapt and change and there have been some absolutely spectacular examples of quality over the past few years.  The point here, though, is about balance and about quality vs. quantity. You'll likely find that the examples of quality cartography we can point to have been made by people who have taken their time. Thought about the map coupled with a mastery of their chosen tech and a smidgen of innovation or originality is the golden ticket. Long may that continue, whatever colo(u)r of Crayola you choose to make your map with. Geo-silos and map-monopolies have long gone but rather than perpetuating the belief that they live on through endless sniping, I'd prefer to see the debate move on to explore how we can encourage a greater proportion of map-makers to make great maps. It's not just about taking them to the's about showing them how to drink it without spilling it all over the carpet.