Mapping the future

Here’s an interview with Google’s chief technology advocate (yep, that’s a real job title) Michael Jones. Jones was co-founder of Keyhole, one of the first companies to offer high-res views of the Earth online, which was acquired by Google in 2004 and became Google Earth. So Jones knows maps, and has some fascinating insights on where he thinks maps are going.

The entire concept of a “map” seems radically different from even a decade ago. It used to be something in a book or on a wall; now it’s something you carry around on your smartphone. Which changes have mattered most? And what further changes should we be ready for?

The major change in mapping in the past decade, as opposed to in the previous 6,000 to 10,000 years, is that mapping has become personal.

It’s not the map itself that has changed. You would recognize a 1940 map and the latest, modern Google map as having almost the same look. But the old map was a fixed piece of paper, the same for everybody who looked at it. The new map is different for everyone who uses it. You can drag it where you want to go, you can zoom in as you wish, you can switch modes—traffic, satellite—you can fly across your town, even ask questions about restaurants and directions. So a map has gone from a static, stylized portrait of the Earth to a dynamic, interactive conversation about your use of the Earth.

I think that’s officially the Big Change, and it’s already happened, rather than being ahead.

Read the interview here.

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Mapping the future