as if / Centrism / Politics

Maps

On http://wordpress.com/#!/my-stats/ a map is shown to visualize views to your blog by country. A nice idea, but  the WordPress developers have used the Mercator projection. Here you see how a map in this projection looks like:

Image

This kind of map has certain advantages for navigation (I don’t want to go into those details here) but it has a huge problem: the nearer you get to the poles, the more the areas are stretched  As a result, land areas near the poles appear much larger than land areas near the equator. In many cases (like in the stats-page of WordPress), Antarctica is left out, resulting in an asymmetrical map with a large northern area and a small tropical area.

For example, Greenland here seems to be similar in size as South America although the latter is in reality more than eight times as large. Europe appears much larger in relation to Africa than it actually is.

As a result, the Mercator projection can and (for applications like this one) should be viewed as an example of euro-centrism.

WordPress is used by bloggers and readers all over the world. The purpose of the map here is not navigation. Therefore, I suggest replacing this projection with another one that shows the correct proportions of areas. A map projection without distortions is impossible but the map projection used should treat everybody the same. For this reason, why not using the Gall-Peters-Projection. It looks like this:

Image

This projection compresses areas near the poles and stretches areas near the equator. As a result, proportions between areas are correct.

Besides suggesting to WordPress to use a projection like Gall-Peters, I further suggest to leave it to the user to decide if south or north should be up and also which meridian to put in the middle. Using Greenwich as the middle meridian is a habit from British colonial times. The user should have the choice instead to center his map somewhere else.

The distortions in the Gall-Peters-projection are not the ones we are used to from being exposed to the Mercator projection from our early years on, but I see that as an additional advantage because it nudges us out of our normal perceptive routines (also known as as-if-constructions). The same holds for putting south up (reason enough for me to have done it here).

(The pictures are from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Mercator_projection_SW.jpg and

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Gall%E2%80%93Peters_projection_SW.jpg).

3 thoughts on “Maps

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