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I don't think the author is trying to say paper maps are better overall than interactive, just that there are aspects (some of them aesthetic) that paper maps do better, and it's good to be mindful --- not up-in-arms, just mindful --- of what we're losing.

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.

I don't understand why a large paper map is better at conveying "the gestalt of a subject" - I appreciate the work Imus did from the perspective of craftsmanship/artwork - and, indeed, it might be a great paper map - but, I'm guessing that 95% of the readership of HN uses digital maps for more than 90% of the time (and, who knows, it might actually be 99% and 99%.) The fact that your map will place your location on it, give you a reasonably decent satellite overlay, and is zoomable to the level that you need it, and will put _dynamic_ layers like weather, and/or traffic with _real time_ data. There is a reason why I haven't thought of turning to a paper map in 5+ years.

It would be interesting to see where a paper map performed better than a digital map.


> and, who knows, it might actually be 99% and 99%.

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.


Just curious, what is the mashup you're working on? When researching historical places, I've often wished that Google Maps natively supported a 4th dimension so that changes over time could be recorded. Everything from "I want to see the businesses on this street as of 2001" to "Zoom out and see European boundaries as of 1100".


> Just curious, what is the mashup you're working on?

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 :)


Please don't judge digital maps by Google Maps... Be aware that you can easily make a digital map that fits your needs if you have the geo data (like eg from OpenStreetMap).


I placed a large 4'x3' map of the U.S. in my kids room. They're too young yet to have a concept of a map (computer or otherwise), but I want them to be able to say look at Calfornia, where we live, and take the time to look at each and every state in between to say the State of Maine. With a very large map you get much more of a feel for the position of states relative to one another (or countries for that matter) and then you can also zoom in (get closer) and see what lies within.

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?


I used to love the globe my parents gave me as a kid. It had raised surfaces to indicate mountains. I remember tracing mountain ranges and wondering about how tall Mount Everest really was.

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.


Except when you need to talk about Alaska and Hawaii...at least in the Ismus map ;)


With a very large, very high-resolution screen, and the same graphic/information design expertise, I'm sure the digital map will do just as well as paper.

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.


Don't forget cost. That big dreamy screen rolls in at $500+ while the wall size map equivalent costs a mere $50 or less, requires no computer to be switched on and is instantly zoomable.


I used to have a Thomas Brothers LA basin wall map. This was a 5x7 (foot) map that went down to street level within the whole Los Angeles area. It was fantastically detailed and beautifully printed.

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.


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