Regarding typography, I don't like the italic text on Imus's map - once you have many lines in random directions around your labels, it's not trivial to say if some 3-4-letter name containing many round letters is italic or not (is ORD in Chicago italic?) Here it's trivial to figure out from context - when you're trying to determine a size of some city, it's not.
Yes, I'm being negative about this map (maybe a bit too much), but apart from art, is there really a good reason to produce maps like this anymore? I don't agree with the angle this article takes:
> For one thing, that zooming capability means the makers of a single digital map are forced to design dozens of differently scaled versions. This severely limits how much time they can devote to perfecting the layout at each zoom level.
It's actually better because it can show the same information after zooming in, but you can still read the "important" information while zoomed out. Reading any text on this map while standing back from it must be a much harder exercise.
> Imus argues that you can’t truly understand a place if you only use zoomed-in maps on teensy screens. [...] Looking at Imus’ big, richly detailed map offers a holistic sense of what America looks like—how cities spread out along rivers, forests give way to plains, and mountains zigzag next to valleys.
Give me an option to turn each category on and off and I'll see the relations much better. Being able to filter out noise would give many more possibilities of exploration than a "generic map with absolutely everything on it". If cities and rivers are what you're interested in, many maps will provide you exactly that information. Trying to figure it out from a map with 10 other layers is harder.
In short, I disagree with this article trying to prove that "old-style" paper maps can be more useful or readable than interactive, zoomable maps with customisable layers. In my opinion those are always more useful than paper maps. </rant> Not to discredit the work that went into this map of course. I do appreciate this map as art and see what the author was trying to achieve. I just disagree strongly that it's useful nowadays.
The only clear claim of superiority I got from this article was that large paper maps are better at conveying the gestalt of their subject, which seems like a straightforward enough argument. Not a novel argument; Tufte made a cottage industry out of it.
It would be interesting to see where a paper map performed better than a digital map.
It seems like I'm part of the 1%, at least once in my adult life :) I'm working on a personal project that involves placing medieval (East-European-based) villages on a Google Maps mashup. In order to do this I rely on 2 paper road-atlases of my country, one published in 2007 and the other one published in the 1930s (I use the latter because lots of villages had their names changed in the meantime or they had just plain disappeared).
At the beginning I did try to rely solely on Google Maps to locate those villages, but there were many cases in which the villages' names were just placed wrong, or they didn't show up at all (not to mention GMaps' latest bug involving diacritics, which makes letters like "ț" or "ș" show up badly on their maps).
Also, having a more general, zoomed-out view of the area you're interested in is really, really useful. It gives you a better understanding of the geographical context (are there mountains around? forests? is it a densely populated area?), which I could never reproduce when using digital maps. Maybe this is all caused by the fact that I'm sort of a map freak and I'm not using maps only to get driving directions, my mother actually bought me a World atlas when I was 5 or 6, and I've been in love with maps ever since, but then again, this article seemed to be targeting people like me.
A little OT, that 1930s road-atlas I mentioned has a very interesting story: as a result of the Ribbentrop-Molotov pact my country lost part of its territory, which used to be mapped in the atlas I own. After WW2 ended and the "friendly" Soviet Army installed a Communist government in my country, it was not politically safe anymore to have those (now Soviet) provinces as having been part of my country, so a kind person actually used scissors and glue and cut out said provinces from the atlas, by very carefully following the new, Soviet-approved border. It all kind of looks like this: http://imgur.com/n6c9y and http://imgur.com/qvcvM .
You cannot get all that from a digital map.
Putting on the map the villages of Wallachia (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wallachia), a historic Romanian province, by order of when they were first documented in the official archives. The project sits here: http://sate.maglina.ro/ , it's based on Django+Solr (there's a "Filter" menu at the top right), it's in Romanian, of course, but it's more or less self-explanatory.
I also created a couple of (I'd say cool :) ) heatmaps based on the data, which you can see here: http://sate.maglina.ro/heatmaps/ , giving a general idea where the early medieval settlements had a greater density. (for the heatmaps I used gheat, of course, http://code.google.com/p/gheat/ , which is a very, very cool project).
> I've often wished that Google Maps natively supported a 4th dimension so that changes over time could be recorded.
I feel you on that :) But, I'll have to admit, it could turn into a very controversial thing. For example, one of the reasons for which I started this small project of mine is that lots of historians (Hungarians and Romanians, mostly) have debated whether present-day Wallachia was inhabited by Romanians continuously (as the Romanian historians insist that it happened) or if said Romanians emigrated to Wallachia from South of the Danube somewhere around 1100-1200 or later (the Hungarians' view on the whole story). I was hoping that by putting on a map the Wallachian villages by order of them being officially mentioned it could clear up some things, at least for me :)
Yes, it is very cool in particular to do that on an iPad. But the entire feel is lost. If one looks at the whole US at once, most of the details are lost. Then as soon as you zoom in it is difficult to appreciate the spatial relationship between states as one "journeys" across the country.
That reminds me, I also need to buy a globe. Or is that to be replaced with an animated 3d monitor representation as well?
When a teacher showed our class a flat map and tried to explain how this Mercator projection wasn't truly accurate because the world is a sphere, I remember a bunch of students being confused. I was more fortunate. I imagined the globe back home and got it right away.
I love digital maps for the efficiency in performing the task of getting from point A to point B, and I love globes for helping to visualize the physical world as a whole.
The issue is simply that paper is (typically) more dense than pixels, allowing your eyes to take in patterns across a larger area, and allowing you to continuously and effortly adjust your vantage point.
Nobody could possibly argue that paper is superior to digital for weather or traffic. Digital maps are, in general, probably superior to paper maps.
I could quite literally spend an hour studying that map, and I learned a lot from it. It would draw you in, in a way that digital maps can't quite do, at least not now.
I can also spend hours browsing Google maps, but it's more fiddly.
Besides the "draw you in" property, the wall map has the advantages of showing far-away regions at equal scale, and always showing places in relation to each other.