The Cloud Thickens

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Content Copyright © 2011 Bloor. All Rights Reserved.

I am not referring to Cloud Computing but rather the cloud of confusion prevailing over geographic information amongst the general public. The confusion over this type of information; the confusion over the many terms used for information that can be linked to the earth’s surface; and the confusion over maps.

Watching a TV program the other evening called, ‘The Beauty of Maps’ highlighted the subjectivity of maps. The map maker has cartographic licence to create a map display which projects his interpretation of the subject; whether it is to visualise the topography correctly and read the labels easily, or to project an image that might not be true. This program described William Morgan’s 1682 Map of London. He created a map of a city after it was destroyed by The Great Fire. His map illustrated the city he envisaged London would become. St Paul’s Cathedral was well illustrated on the map even though it was totally destroyed and had yet to be rebuilt. Maps project what the creator intends.

There is a book written by Allan and Barbara Pease called ‘Why men don’t listen and women can’t read maps’.The theory goes that “due to their different roles in evolution, men had to hunt and stalk their prey, so became skilled at navigation, while women foraged for food and so became good at spotting fruits and nuts close by” [The Telegraph website]. I am not sure that explains it and, if one can generalise quite so simply, women should then be the bigger enthusiast about SatNavs. Maybe the ‘don’t listen’ bit prevents men from asking for or listening to directions 🙂

Returning to the subject—there is a great lack of understanding amongst laymen about location and geographic information systems (GIS)—as my previous article described the need to increase aWhereness. Location information—or whatever we want to call it—is simply the position on the earth’s surface to the accuracy that is possible, and/or the accuracy that is required.

Initially Google Maps and Google Earth provided much needed publicity for geographic information. Google Maps, or similar, is used by most people I know to find their destination and obtain directions to reach it. Google Earth stirred an interest in places we might not visit but can view. So much good has emanated from those two applications to raise the profile of location.

The downside is that there is still not enough understanding or appreciation of the implications of geographic information and the systems. The associated costs are now even harder to sell as ‘Google is free’.

The Google application, Latitude, enables a mobile phone user to allow certain people to view their current location. I assume that these locations include both the longitude and latitude measurement; just the distance from the equator would not really help anyone.

Another term to increase the confusion, or is Google taking latitude with Latitude?

In addition, according to the latest Apollo survey table measuring the media coverage per technology company, Google came 1st in Europe and in USA, and 3rd in UK!  With that much media exposure, we should not underestimate the influence of Google!

We will have to tell a convincing story about the necessary investment to add location to your business systems. We will have to ensure that the longitude accompanies the latitude and makes good sense.

That means we, geographic professionals will have to work that much harder to tell—and sell—our story.