Korzybski remarked that “the map is not the territory”, reminding us that we shouldn’t confuse our mental models for reality. But maps, and data visualizations of all kinds, are really powerful, conveying complex ideas easily, and even shaping (or misshaping) perceptions about facts. This is one reason why decentralization of mapping resources and services is good; no one organization should control our common maps.
SVG is a natural fit for mapping. There’s even a detailed proposal by KDDI’s Satoru Takagi-sensei for tiling, layering, and coordinate resolution that fits on top of SVG, which I’d like to see standardized.
I’ve had an idea for a small open-source project for a while, which I’ve discussed with the brilliant Andreas Neumann of Carto.net; he’s been too busy planning SVG Open every year to help out with it thus far, and I don’t have the skills to do it without a great investment in time.
The idea is simple: there are lots of static SVG maps of various countries, states, etc. that are freely available (for example, on Wikipedia). Some effective data visualizations can be made with these (color-coding countries, etc.), but they are by necessity very simple. Content creators can’t use such maps to pinpoint specific locations (long/lat), because they don’t know the projection… the maps are purely visual, not topographical (if that’s the right word).
There are more heavy-weight solutions, like OpenStreetMap, which is awesome, but more than most people need for very simple location-sensitive webapps.
For example, using this script and some of these premade maps, I could make a little webapp that allows members of a social network (e.g. a developer community, or people who share a hobby) to type in their location (long/lat), and it would stick a “pin” in the map at that location. They could see the high level overview at the world level (100 people in the US, 20 in Japan, 72 in Europe, etc.), and easily drill to the country level (click on US and open that map, showing 20 in California, 5 in North Carolina), and drill down again to the region level (showing the distribution of pins in North Carolina).
It would not go down to the city level, or show regional features like roads or lakes… that gets too complex, and there are other applications to do that. However, it would include projection metadata and instructions for each region (which the conversion script might use), and the project would make it possible for someone to export their own GIS data into this simplified format by providing instructions (for, say, ArcGIS).
This is something I think could appeal to people on a very high-level, making SVG easier to understand and use for simple projects like this; I want to improve the reusability of SVG in this way.
Oh, and in case PolyMaps doesn’t completely fit what I described above, let talk.