Map-Love: Over 25 Fascinating Maps You Might Not Have Seen Before
I love maps. There’s no denying it. It’s part knowledge gathering, part geographic awareness, part information fetish. I think I feel safer knowing where I am in relation to other things, and I can literally spend hours and hours looking at maps of all shapes and sizes.
I spent a good part of a recent Sunday afternoon walking round the “Putting Scotland On The Map” Bartholomew & Son exhibition at the National Library of Scotland. On my own. I have no shame, since I think the true craft of cartographers and map makers is hugely under-appreciated and often taken for granted.
Being a designer, I also tend to think visually. Often, when somebody tries to explain a concept I tend to try and “map it” as opposed to write it down or explain it by other means. I often do “mind maps” for idea generation, and we can probably all agree on how useful the rise of Google Maps and GPS has been.
Maps even play a part in reporting and analytics as well as a big part in multinational reporting, from the world-vision feature of Campaign Monitor, through to the map view of Google Analytics. They’re pretty much, undeniably everywhere and being used all the time, yet I think many people take maps for granted.
You’re likely aware of the Google Sightseeing phenomenon and associated “look what we found” type blogs and sites, but what you may not realise is that there’s a huge host of other ways that maps are being used these days. If you’re not amazed by these, then quite frankly, it’s just a case of “there’s no pleasing some people”.
The prospect of “live maps” might send some people scuttling into their houses, for fear of big brother spying on us from above. Don’t get me wrong, stalkers the world-over would be delighted to have some sort of live visual maps available, and I think I’d find it wildly fascinating to watch the world from above, but it’s probably some way off at this point. What we do have though are a variety of maps which already incorporate live data (both useful and useless), which looks to me to be pushing the boundaries of the sort of information map systems can provide.
The fairly popular Twitter hashtag-led #uksnow Map is an interesting integration of map and weather, although errs less on predictions and accuracy, and more on nonsense and gimmick.
Want to feel like we’re living in a world plagued by more disaster and nightmareish happenings than you initially thought. Why not lighten the mood with this real-time disaster and emergency map?
Better yet, find out about the epidemic or pandemic outbreaks near you! Never want to leave the house again? Check it out!
If exclusively earthquakes are your thing, this is the live earthquake map, bringing you up-to-the-minute coverage of shifting tectonics.
Not paranoid enough about disaster and disease? Check your local area for flood warnings.
Do much in the way of swashbuckling? This is the map for you. I particularly like the purple pin labels for “suspicious vessel”.
If you’re into boats and that, then Sailwx provides ship locations. Marinetraffic also provide possibly a more usable interface for marine traffic locations around the globe.
Need to blow your mind with a visualisation of live air-traffic. Plane Finder shows the nine-thousand odd aircraft currently in the air, and where they are. Probably one of the coolest maps in this list. In fact, they also do a ships version which totally trumps the two above!
Do you often find yourself in a train or waiting on the platform? These maps provide live tube train locations and live-ish train locations through data provided by National Rail.
Two fairly recent additions to the Google Maps provision have been traffic and weather information. Both of these seem to be fairly useful pieces of live data pulled from other sources. It’s definitely worth considering that with Google’s popularity and market share, we could see far more additions to the maps in future.
If Google’s fairly weak representation of live traffic doesn’t suffice, why not use TomToms seemingly more extensive network of incident reports. A great way to remind yourself how dangerous driving is.
Keen on that latest micro-video blogging platform Vine? Why not view videos in real-time? It’ll be like that “life in a day” film Ridley Scott did, but less interesting.
Yearning to join a protest of some sort? Look no further than Sukey’s live protest map.
Traditionally, maps alone tend to give us geographical and sometimes topographical data. Largely, this is of the Earth, although Google did also provide Google Moon, Mars and Sky in addition to their regular maps. That said, there are lots of integrated maps (map “mashups” I guess) that provide data from other sources, which can end up becoming a great resource if you are (or your device is) aware of your location.
Demographics, analysis and visualisation over Bing’s maps. This one seems to require a membership or sign-up.
Like to hate on roadworks? You can check on reports for your local streets provided by irate complainers, with gems such as “broken slabs rocking caused me to fall”. It’s kind of like the BBC’s old “Points of View” programme, but you’ll have to do your own silly voices to read out the moaning.
Do you want to know how long it’ll take you to get to the gym, the airport or anywhere really? Mapumental provides travel time maps.
Use your postcode (UK only at the moment) to find out which region, council area or other administrative realm your home sits within.
Where would we be without the power of collaboration (other than very, very alone)? When it comes to something as location-dependent as a map, it’s a no-brainer. Therefore it should come as no surprise that there are a number of Wikipedia-style or user contributed map services.
User contributed and free, with downloadable imagery, this is one of the more popular user generated map sites.
Based on Google Maps imagery, but with hover-effects for regions, stores and points of interest, this tends to provide you with a bunch of additional data that might have previously taken a while to track down. All user contributed too. Very handy.
Following the Wikipedia theme, this is a map which provides the locations of those making updates to Wikipedia in real-time. It combines Google Maps and Wikipedia author information.
Need a route to run? There are so many joggers out there that somebody’s bound to have plotted a route near you. Why not give it a go?
Luckily, I’m not the only person who sees a map as a thing of beauty. There are others doing some lovely things with maps that you could stick on your wall and whatnot.
A small project providing some context and a frame to relatively abstract map images which you can control with click and drag. Nifty, but largely useless.
Toner, terrain and watercolour versions of your area, provided by open street map data and some wonderful artistic effects.
Want to see some select areas at sunrise or sunset? Again, Stamen comes complete with the use of open map data and some interesting colouring.
Build Your Own
Not content with the list above? Want to start creating your own maps? Here are some sites you might want to look at:
Do you know of any other fascinating maps that might fulfill my map fetish? Let me know!
This post was originally written for the QueryClick blog.
About The Author: Alex Cowles
A largely cynical and often sarcastic designer and front-end developer by day. Unknown international DJ & music producer extraordinaire by night (and at weekends). You probably won't like him.