Look, Ma, No More Mercator Tiles

Using open source tools it is now super easy to make your own map tiles, and with a little extra work you can render them in whatever map projection you want. No more excuses to use Mercator! For example, here is a map we published today at The Upshot. It shows where prime-age women are working more or less then average, and includes data from county-level in the overview map down to every census tract once you zoom in. And all is nicely projected in Albers Equal-Area Conic, a projection widely adopted as standard for U.S. maps.

here’s how you do it

Why We Need Another Mapping Framework

Over the last two years, cartography has drawn my attention from time to time. In 2009 I started my work in the field by porting the PROJ.4 library to ActionScript. My first notable interactive map application was a world map widget for the Piwik Analytics project, which is in use until today. It was born from the need to have a simple world map that is lightweight, easy to use and completely independent from external map services like Google Maps.

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Omitting Greenland Won’t
Fix Your Mercator Map

Yesterday I read an interesting article in the “AI Journal“, which is the german news journal of amnesty international. It was about how many people in the world having internet access and how some governments and companies are censoring internet content. Thereby I saw this map:

Visualization of world-wide internet access taken from the current german "AI Journal"

Visualization of world-wide internet access taken from the current german "AI Journal"

Thanks to the Mercator projection, the European countries are about twice as large as there are in reality, Iceland appears as big as Spain and Alaska as big as Australia. As it’s impossible to map the surface of a sphere to a plane without distortions, every map projection has to deal with some kind of errors. But there is at least one mistake that cannot be tolerated. Can anybody see where Greenland has gone? I mean, it’s quite a large country so it’s not easy to forget. I think they simply left it out. Who cares about the 57,000 people living there? Who cares about all the people seeing this map in the journal? Who cares about visualization integrity? At least not the editorial staff from the German AI Journal.

So, I want to apologize to all people living in Greenland by completing this post with a map of Greenland in it’s real size and proportion. I know you are there!

The geographic position and size of Greenland

The geographic position and size of Greenland