Bad Internet Maps: ‘A Social Media Plague’

Business Insider

Business Insider’s widely mocked, since-deleted-from-Twitter, but very very viral map of the most popular fast food restaurants by state is the launching-off point for The Ringer’s Claire McNear, who rants about the maps clogging the Internet that are stupid, uninformed, wrong and exist only to generate clicks. Among other things, she writes:

The map is bad, is my point, and obviously bad, and I sincerely wish that we didn’t have to talk about it. But we do. Because maps like this one aren’t merely birdbrained schlock: They are a social media plague, a scourge that can reduce just about any social network to gibbering in-fights in the space of a few virally shared minutes. We’re all susceptible; we’re all defenseless. A dumb internet map with incendiary falsehoods is coming for all of us, and there is just about nothing we can do to stop it.

The formula goes something like this: Map plus declaration of definitive statewide preference equals profit. Profit here means eyeballs or clicks or reshares or, most likely, some combination of all three, especially the last one, because it turns out that there are few sentiments more appealing than Oy, check out the terrible things the cretins in [Bad State] get up to.

Consider some other recent viral highlights. “This Map Shows What People Hate the Most in Each State” (using data from a brand-new dating app that no one outside a handful of stunt pieces seems to have used, and which was obviously trying to drum up interest). There are maps showing states’ Favorite Holiday Movies and Favorite Reality TV Show and Favorite Romantic Comedy (using an arbitrarily arrived at combination of AMC user ratings—what?—and Google Trends data). “This Map Shows the Most Popular Food in Every State” (using Pinterest recipes specifically selected for their range). Even The New York Times has gotten awfully close to its own Map of Dubious Adorations, publishing a 50-state anthology of Thanksgiving classics in 2014, in which the effort to differentiate by state yielded questionable dishes like “grape salad.”

The truth is we’re all very boring, and our preferences aren’t all that different.

Worth reading in full.

The problem is that even though their methodologies are shoddy and their conclusions are dubious, clickbaity maps like these are popular. The competition for attention is fierce, and maps are a quick and dirty way of generating traffic. My traffic skyrockets whenever I post a link to something even remotely like these maps (xkcd is usually a safe bet), and if I resorted to posting maps like these all the time, I’d be making much more money at this. But I wouldn’t be able to look myself in the mirror.

Book Review Roundup

Geographical magazine reviews The Red Atlas, the survey of Soviet-era topo maps of the world by John Davies and Alexander J. Kent out this month from University of Chicago Press. National Geographic’s All Over the Map blog also has a feature on The Red Atlas. I’ve received my own review copy of The Red Atlas and hope to have a review for you … at some point (I’m rather backlogged).

Meanwhile, Geographical also has a review of Alastair Bonnett’s latest book of geographical idiosyncraciesBeyond the Map, and All Over the Map takes a look at Andrew DeGraff’s book mapping movie plotlines, Cinemaps. Tor.com excerpts Cinemaps’s map of Mad Max: Fury Road.

Previously: New Map Books for October 2017; Alastair Bonnett’s Beyond the MapSoviet Spy Maps, Redux.

Australian Braille Globe Being Digitized

A rare Braille globe held by the Queensland State Library is being digitized so as to create a 3D-printed replica. The globe, invented by Richard Frank Tunley in the 1950s, is one of the last copies still in existence and is in poor physical shape—problematic for something designed to be touched. That’s where the replica comes in. It’s funded by the library foundation’s crowdfunding initiative, which will also help fund the original globe’s restoration. ABC NewsSydney Morning Herald. Media release. [ANZMapS]

Mapping with Microsoft Paint

The Washington State Department of Transportation is clearly run by sadists. They held a contest to create a map of road closures and special events in the Seattle area over the busy 29 September to 1 October weekend. But because they’re sadists (or because it’s Washington State, home of Microsoft), the map had to be created using Microsoft Paint, with entrants drawing on a supplied base layer.

In the end, there were four entries, which can be viewed at this Flickr album. Voting is by likes on Flickr or via Twitter. [Sarah Bell]

Guatemala’s Giant Relief Map

Mapa en Relieve de Guatemala. Photo by H. Grobe, July 2012. Wikimedia Commons. Creative Commons licence.

Atlas Obscura has the story of Guatemala’s Mapa en Relieve, an exaggerated-relief 3D relief model of the country. The 1:10,000-scale horizontal, 1:2,000-scale vertical map is approximately 1,800 square metres in area and made of concrete. Built by Francisco Vela and put on display in 1905, the map includes present-day Belize as part of Guatemala, which claimed the British Honduras at that time. It kind of reminds me of British Columbia’s Challenger Map, only a half-century older and made of concrete rather than wood. [WMS]

Post-Brexit EU Map Shows Independent Scotland

XYZ Maps

A new post-Brexit map of the European Union shows Scotland as an EU member separate and independent from a rump “United Kingdom of England, Wales and Northern Ireland,” which is coloured like other non-EU members. Commissioned by Interkart and produced by XYZ Maps, the 119 × 84 cm wall map costs £24/40€. Interkart, XYZ Maps. [WMS]

A Giant Map for Presidential Inauguration Planning

The U.S. military uses a huge floor map of Washington, D.C. to plan for presidential inaugurations, as the Tech Insider video above shows. According to this, it’s used by the Armed Forces Inaugural Committee, a joint-service organization that provides military ceremonial support. (See this U.S. Army article from 2012 about the 2013 inauguration, and this 2008 Pruned blog post about the 2009 inauguration.) [Tim Wallace]

End of the Line: A Tube Map of Tube Maps

Well, this is meta. Kenneth Field, whose map of Mars I told you about earlier this year, has created a tube map of tube maps.

End of the Line is an attempt to be the last word in tube map pastiche. […]

While Beck himself likely ‘copied’ a number of aspects that ended up on his map he did so with consummate skill to create something unique, innovative and functional. Most subsequent schematic maps are pale imitations. We wrote a semi-academic paper about it which you can access from my blog here.

All too often we see transit map templates used as a short-cut to recognition and success. With no hint of irony whatsoever (!) we’ve done exactly the same and mapped the weird and wonderful world of Becksploited maps onto some tube lines and stations.

Becksploitation. There’s a term for you. It’s not like there’s no use for it.

What If Only … Voted?

While we wait for the results, think back, raise a glass, and remember fondly the meme that came and went so quickly a month or so ago: What if only … voted? Based on FiveThirtyEight maps showing the gender gap in voting intentions (What if only women voted? What if only men voted?) that quickly went viral, similar maps showing gap by race and education were followed by other maps that were considerably  … sillier—here’s a selection. As Boing Boing’s Rob Beschizza said on 14 October: “The whole thing went from funny to saturation point to old in record time, and is already over.” Thing is, now that it’s Election Day I’m seeing them again. It ain’t over till it’s over. And sometimes not even then.