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The Future of Maps

Four cutting-edge cartographers--from Google's explorer-in-residence to Tom Harrison himself--help us chart the course of the next revolution in wilderness mapping.

BP Are any spots on the planet still terra incognita?

Fred I’ve heard about biologists finding places—using Google Earth—that looked like they weren’t explored. They pinpointed certain parts of the globe and were able to explore them electronically first; then they went there and found new species.

That was in Mozambique. One of the magical things about Google Earth is that there’s all this data available—satellite imagery that’s been gathered over the years that no one looks at. Some government agency, somewhere, sometime, commissioned this one shot to be taken, and it was never looked at again. This has created a new hobby for some people: looking at cool stuff on the globe. People discover things all the time—an ancient fish trap off the coast of Wales, Roman ruins, and so on.

BP You could argue that people around the world are more involved with maps than ever before and that today’s tools are democratizing mapmaking.

Larry That’s a good point. With the original 7.5-minute topo series, the government did all the work, soup to nuts. We acquired new aerial photography, we sent our employees out to do field surveys. That’s extremely expensive and very slow. That kind of business model just isn’t going to fly today.

I agree. We’re entering an era of the citizen cartographer  where you don’t have to be an authoritative government agency to produce a map. There are people all over the world who are out there hiking, gathering local knowledge, sharing their experiences.

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