Recursion and online maps

Posted November 15, 2010 in ephemera, visualisation  |  No Comments so far

I’ve been thinking a lot about online maps recently. This is probably because I spent most of October in France, depending mainly on Google Maps for finding my way around. They’ve certainly come a long way in the last ten years. Remember when Streetmap seemed fresh and exciting? It seems like such a dinosaur now, compared to the more advanced map services that have come along since then.

There’s something appealingly recursive about online maps too. Before, there were no computers and we all lived in the real world, in physical space. Then the internet came along, and we had to learn how to navigate this new virtual world, an “information space”, represented by windows and menus and buttons and so on.

After a while, the information space itself became rich enough to contain useful maps. In other words, we encountered the physical space represented within the virtual space, which we in turn encountered in the physical space. Maybe this graphic will help:

Click to see full-size graphic

OK, maybe not. But if you ever find yourself walking down a street while ignoring your surroundings and looking only at the blinking blue dot on your phone’s mapping application, you might know what I mean. And yes, I’ve done that.

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