Is There a Need for Neo-Cartography?

Article excerpt


Is there a problem?

These days more and more maps are being produced and used by more people than ever before. This seems to be a very positive development for those who are in favor of maps. The increase can be witnessed both in a professional environment (e.g., geoscientists) and the public environment (individuals). For both groups, the tools--to collect, process and visualize data--are affordable, easily accessible, and usable. The geoscientist has professional software available, but also makes use of the solutions offered to the general public, such as Google maps. The public also uses map products that through mash-up technology are often disguised in Web 2.0 applications. These are part of the new social media that stimulate people to share all kind of information like photographs, videos, and texts. This information has been collected by location-enabled mobile phones and cameras, and can be put on a map.

Are these developments also favorable for the cartographic discipline? As most of us have learned, maps are effective because they present a selection from reality via a well-designed symbolization. Good maps are relatively empty and have a clear visual hierarchy to emphasize the important. The nature of the new maps is quite different. It seems they always show data complexity or chaos. Both geoscientists and the public tend to put everything they have on the map. Expectations have also changed, as Clark (2008) observed: "We no longer look at the map to see where we are, on the contrary, we tell the map where we are, and the map shapes itself around us". The cartographic discipline cannot ignore these trends that seem to happen on two sides of mainstream cartography: in the advanced scientific domain (geovisual analytics) and in the public domain (neogeography). Both domains will be briefly described in the next sections.

Communication about maps and cartography is no longer through professional publications only The new media like blogs, Facebook and Twitter have a wide influence. One might find challenging statements there, about what cartographers consider as mainstream cartography. Some qualify this as paleocartography or old cartography (Geens 2007), while others have bold statements like "cartography is dead--long live the map maker" (Parsons 2008). However, professional cartographers also express their opinions when they discuss the new maps. Expressions like maps with 'red dot fever' (Schuyler 2006) or 'overplotting' and 'nondesign' are used.

Figure 1 gives an example from both neogeography and geovisual analytics. The first shows a detailed map from Google Earth with all possible layers switched on, and the second a mildly over plotted network map. The question is: does it matter? Are these new maps really problematic or is there a new generation of users with other visual 'capabilities?' Is there a need for new cartographic principles, and if so, what would this neo-cartography comprise? Does it for instance mean that guidelines will exist like 'always use mash-up on top of OSM, Google Maps,' 'never use map types like ...,' 'rectangles should be on top of ...,' 'all symbols should be shaped like ...,' or 'colors are limited to....' Neocartography could be defined as a limited set of loosely coupled simple guidelines that allow an adequate visualization of large amounts of diverse data sets. At the end of this paper, this working definition will be revisited.


The Web 2.0 has introduced opportunities for users not only to consume web data but also to contribute data to the web as user generated content. Social media like Flickr, Facebook and YouTube are important drivers in this development. The contributed data are often tagged via keywords. A component of these tags are geo-tags that hold geo-referenced information like geographical names or even coordinates. These tags make it possible to plot this information on maps. …