The True Size of Africa

Africa is a massive continent. But for whatever reason, map makers make it appear smaller than its “true true” size. As Polish-American scientist Alfred Korzybski reminds us, “the map is not the territory.” Lines are ultimately arbitrary.

Map design is deceptive. But computer-graphics designer Ka Kraise took it upon himself to ‘fight against rampant immappancy,’ in particular the popular Mercator projection originated by Gerardus Mercator in 1569 which tends to exaggerate the size of continents and countries more than others. Greenland, for instance, is 14 times larger than Africa.

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As you can see above, Kraise illustrates the reality of Africa’s size, that which is “larger than the USA, China, Japan, and all of Europe, combined!” The Economist revisualized Kraise’s map as well.

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Kudos to Kraise for illuminating our ignorance about geographical knowledge, pointing the finger at Western and Asian students who tend to inflate the size of their countries when in actuality Africa makes everyone else look so small.

Read more in The Economist: ‘The true true size of Africa’

Trust your internal compass

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via giphy

One of the oldest surviving maps (the Babylonian Map of the World) is “about the size and shape of an early iPhone.” But it too was artifice and spin.

“The map is not the territory, said Polish-American scientist Alfred Korzybski. Maps are deceiving representations of reality. To quote the author Mark Monmonier of How to Lie With Map, “No map entirely tells the truth. There’s always some distortion, some point of view.”

Maps drive conquest, gentrification, taxes, and voting polls. Google Maps, as Google does, gives us the turn-by-turn directions to a final destination. But we trust GPS a little too much yet remain frustrated and bewildered when the software leads us into the middle of the Atlantic Ocean on the way to Rhode Island.

And we thought Google had all the answers! Blame the humans, not the machines.

Faulty computer intelligence reminds humans that our devices are imperfect just like us and that perhaps, we should continue to leverage our internal compass.

Orange is the new blue

Photo by Wells Baum

If you use Google Maps, you’ll notice that the latest version shows ‘areas of interest’ in orange. These are places, according to Google, “where there’s a lot of activities and things to do.”

Why orange? I’m not entirely sure, perhaps because green, blue, gray, and white are already taken — reserved for representations of water, grass, housing, and roads respectively. The patches also seem to indicate a real-life geographic divide between commercial and poorer neighborhoods as seen in the image below.

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In any case, all this went through my head as I captured the image above just outside the Farragut West stop on the orange line in DC. But unlike Google maps, there appeared to be nothing to see or do (at least at that moment) in this orange space.

The use of colors, as it’s used in visualizations online and off, appear arbitrary but may contain subtle intention. After all, the map is not the territory; not to mention, orange paint was once more popular than the color blue.

 

Google Maps streamlines look and adds hotspots

Let’s face it. Google Maps is bloated. It’s like the MySpace of maps with a bunch of different custom options and toolbars.

But Google released an update yesterday that promises to declutter its design.

“So as part of this update, we’ve removed elements that aren’t absolutely required (like road outlines).”

Google also added a new feature to spotlight potential “areas of interest.” If there’s anything we learned from Pokemon Go, it’s that people want to explore new places.

“As you explore the new map, you’ll notice areas shaded in orange representing “areas of interest”—places where there’s a lot of activities and things to do.”

Maps are essential to our mobile experience. Without GPS, we’d be lost. While Apple’s Maps app has improved, Google still has more location-based data, something Foursquare is also optimistic about.

Google Maps personalization will hurt public space and engagement.

The best way to do that is to actually turn us into highly predictable creatures by artificially limiting our choices. Another way is to nudge us to go to places frequented by other people like us—like our Google Plus friends. In short, Google prefers a world where we consistently go to three restaurants to a world where our choices are impossible to predict.

You can’t predict the unpredictable.

And remember: “Don’t be Evil.”

I’ve got a few simple frameworks for thinking about things. In social media, one of my main ones is the tenet that 1% of the users will create content, 10% will curate it, and the rest will consume it.

Fred Wilson

Fred goes on to say that 10 million Foursquare users are content creators, half of Foursquare’s total user base. I just re-downloaded the app for the third time. Again, it’s one of the best designed apps out there. And it’s very user friendly.

But it’s just one of those apps I don’t use as a creator, curator, nor consumer. I check in with Instagram and search for places and hotspots on Google. Maybe I should give Foursquare another shot even if it’s just asking it for the nearest Wifi.

I’d like to see Apple gobble Foursquare on the cheap and import its 20+ million mobile user community (data) into its new maps app. Forget Ping.

Foursquare is going somewhere but the roadmap is hard to predict.