Six map links that every cartographer has seen a million times

We have a problem as cartographers. It’s that nobody would ever in a million years have believed that there’s such a thing as cartography anymore. Whenever somebody discovers (with much amazement) that we do exist, either by joining our ranks or simply realizing that we weren’t lying about our jobs after all, they react predictably. They send around the thing that led to this discovery, or the thing that they found soon after the discovery. And most of the time it’s one of the same few things. Heck, we tweet and retweet these things over and over ourselves, probably because we’re still trying to convince everyone that we exist. Friends, let me save you some trouble. Here are some things that every cartographer has seen a million times; you don’t need to send us these links.

We feel smug every time someone tweets or emails this to us, because we already knew the distortions of the Mercator projection and the social arguments for the Gall-Peters projection. It’s all we can do not to lecture you about it beyond the four minutes of the clip. Don’t get us wrong: we’re kind of giddy that the ever-highbrow West Wing introduced you to the subject, but we’ve seen it a million times.

Nothing is where you think it is.

Okay, this one isn’t a link people send us. But, every time. Every time we mention our job to someone new, this is what we hear in reply. Or something along those lines, anyway. We’ve heard it a million times and we’re tired of answering it.

You make maps? That’s so sad!
The inevitable conversation

Buster thinks that blue on the map indicates land, LOLOLOLOL!!!111!!1!one. Okay, we can laugh at Buster for that one, but the harder joke to swallow is the one earlier in the episode, which kind of dismisses cartography because everything has been discovered by Magellan, Cortés, and NASA. Oh well. Cartographers are cool, so we’re Arrested Development fans, which means we’d seen this a million times before you ever sent it to us.

Never hurts to double check.

Every few months some notable outlet runs a story on the growing interest in things like OpenStreetMap and the ever-increasing accessibility of mapping tools and data. Admittedly these aren’t written for us—and they provide excellent exposure for good things—but they still fly around cartography circles. Hey, we are keenly aware that amateur cartographers are everywhere. Why do you think we get so cranky and act like know-it-alls? Because a million amateurs are going to STEAL OUR JOBS!

What’s next, robots?
Uncharted Territory: The Power of Amateur Cartographers
What Happens When Everyone Makes Maps?

These appear almost monthly now and come in a few flavors, ranging from Buzzfeed nonsense to respectable journalism. They tend to follow a pattern, which is to include:

  • A half dozen superbly crafted, informative maps
  • A handful of disgusting cartograms
  • About 20 maps that simplify complex world issues into bite-sized MS Paint-quality choropleths

Trust me, the only satisfaction we get from these is seeing that some of our colleagues made the list. (Those would be the several good maps.) Otherwise we cringe. Also, we’ve already seen all the maps a million times. We’ve seen this 26 million times before.

Look at the title of this post! Ha ha ha!!!
40 maps that explain the world
40 maps they didn’t teach you in school
38 maps you never knew you needed

Harry Beck must be rolling over in his grave. The subway map infographic craze was in full swing a couple of years ago, with people “visualizing” all kinds of things using this well-known style. Yeah, it’s a nice visual, but folks: if there isn’t actual topology to show, it shouldn’t be a subway-style map. Among the popular images that get passed around are some magnificent maps that actually make sense (often dealing with transportation, for example Cameron Booth’s maps), and a few of the others are clever enough to be worthwhile, but we cartographers do a lot of eye-rolling at the rest of them. A million eye rolls.

But this is one of the clever ones.
xkcd subway map

I am in reality only half as rude as the above post may suggest.



  1. great blog Andy…I’m particularly incensed by the subway map parodies at least 99% of which are utter rubbish (trash).

    I’d also like to throw the ‘True Size of Africa’ nonsense into the mix…mostly because everyone loves it even though they have no idea it’s completely wrong due to the huge projection error.

    Kenneth Field
    14 August 2013 @ 6:24pm

  2. There is also the XKCD map projections cartoon I would add to your list.

    14 August 2013 @ 10:45pm

  3. Kenneth, that reminds me also of the “Maps of X and Y at the same scale!” type, which I never trust. Half the time they’re confusing “same zoom level in Google Maps” for “same scale”.

    Andy Woodruff
    14 August 2013 @ 11:02pm

  4. Got that one in my Twitter feed 6 tweets after the one that shared this blog post 😉

    @*********: 40 maps that will help you make sense of the world

    Francois Goulet
    15 August 2013 @ 6:46am

  5. I would like to add misleading election maps to that list, and people thinking we live in a very “red” country. On that, unnormalized choropleths in general.

    Mike Foster
    15 August 2013 @ 9:08am

  6. Mike, but also the rash of “true” maps about two days after every election, when all the non-cartographers learn of cartograms and such for the first time. (And just to be sure I say something mean about those too…)

    Andy Woodruff
    15 August 2013 @ 9:26am

  7. Oh my goodness Andy, this just made my day.

    Also I can’t believe I haven’t seen that West Wing clip before! Wow!

    15 August 2013 @ 1:56pm

  8. You’ve just made it 1 million & 1 😉

    Christopher Wesson
    17 August 2013 @ 2:30am