The democratization of cartography

(Updated below)

Interesting blog from the University of Wisconsin-Madison observing that recent developments in cartography have brought about a "democratization" of the discipline.

Meaning, that map-making is gaining a populist appeal because its "powerful new tools" (they provide a link to Professor Mark Harrower's home page, shown above) allow more people to deal with spatial data.

What's interesting here is that this goes beyond just saying there are more map-making programs for everybody (map mashups and such). Harrower says that there are easy to use tools that help you deal with specific aspects of spatial data. The argument is that in the same way blogs have changed publishing, then these tools will change mapping. He mentions:

1. Data filtering (helps with the huge influx of spatial data out there)
2. Various design modules, eg ColorBrewer for choosing colors on the map
3. How to tackle dynamic change in your data
4. Generalizing data

All these tiny little tools do one thing. We're not talking ArcGIS here. Yes, they're all free. But I wonder if they can crack the attraction of getting one piece of software that does everything. At least that way you only have to remember one name and one way of doing things!

The potential of open-source mapping is high, but as yet unproven. I mean, some people don't even accept that blogs have changed anything (much less actually read them!).

Update. A similar article "New Directions in Mapmaking" in the Washington Times discusses the difference between traditional paper-based mapping and newer developments. It quotes a bunch of cartographers including Tanya Allison, professor and program coordinator of applied geography at Montgomery College in Rockville, Allen Carroll of the NGS, and John Hebert, chief of the Geography and Map Division of the Library of Congress.

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