Why does Google maps use the inaccurate, ancient and distorted Mercator Projection?
Every time I see a "Powered By Google" website display the default Google world map, I wince and wonder "why does the most sophisticated information technology company in the world use the most distorted and archaic world map known to humankind?".
The Mercator Projection distorts the world, giving the false impression that Greenland is the size of South America, Asia is ginormous and Alaska is bigger than Mexico - all inaccuracies that are being presented by Google. Google's reputation for accuracy means that these distortions are reinforced in our conscience as facts.
The Mercator Projection is 440 years old and provided one practical purpose - bearings can be accurately drawn. The utility of this begins and ends with nautical navigation - clearly not the primary purpose of Google maps.
I urge Google to be responsible with the world's knowledge and follow the advice of numerous cartographic associations that request that the Mercator Project not be used. For anything. Ever.
Many viable alternatives are available, including the Winkel Tripel projection which is the modern standard world map adopted by the National Geographic Society.
Is it not time for Google Maps to come forward, at least to the 20th century?
Would it be possible to add to Metric and Statute Mile (=1609 meters), the possibility to choose Nautical Mille (=1852 meters).
It's the maritime and aeronautic measure unit and it is used for long distance (around earth...).
It should be very easy to code this (almost a simple copy-paste) and to put it on the left part where there is enough room.
My take is that maps are primarily used for navigation and that therefore Mercator maps are so popular. Teaching comes a very distant second and while there are projections that are more "fair" than Mercator, you should always take into account that it remains jolly hard to project a sphere onto a 2 dimensional medium.
I wonder whether a conversion between projections is easily possible. And by "easily" I mean that CPU usage around the globe wouldn't sky rocket for the sake of a nicer projection.
I understand your answer for the needs of the Google Maps environment - and that its actually quite a tricky computing problem to make a smooth transition during zooming.....
However, the fact that the Spherical Mercator has been transposed onto Google's data visualisation maps such as those on Google Analytics, the Google Chart tools and other products that use the API seems a little harder to explain.....
Any ideas when there might be progress on this?
PS I'll still use the tools as they are head and shoulders above anything anyone else is building!
The primary purpose of Google Maps is to provide local navigation, street maps and directions, rather than to provide a planetary view of the Earth. Within the context of local street searches (e.g. where is the closest shoe store), angles and compass directions are very important, as well as ensuring that distances in all directions are shown at the same scale (locally). Consistent area is less important, since local scale is easily dealt with by providing a distance indicator (assuming the region being viewed is relatively small). Also, it is highly advantageous to make panning work correctly in conjunction with zooming, without the application of linear or non-linear transforms. It turns out that there is exactly one kind of planar projection with these properties. That projection is the Mercator projection. The choice to use this projection is not arbitrary, but rather is motivated by practical mathematical considerations. These properties make Mercator the standard for nearly all navigation applications.
A good alternative to Mercator is to not use any projection at all (i.e. map all the data to a three dimensional mesh). This is what Google Earth uses, and it is great for large scale (e.g. planetary) geological applications.
VZoc wrote: "I wonder whether a conversion between projections is easily possible. And by "easily" I mean that CPU usage around the globe wouldn't sky rocket for the sake of a nicer projection."
Yes, these conversions are easy for a computer. However, any alternative to Mercator will remove certain properties such as the ability to pan continuously such that only the newly exposed map needs to be redrawn.
I'm reading a book about the exploration of the North American Arctic. The explorers who did this work lived and died by angles. The book still does not use the insanely disproportionate Mercator projection.
I find myself just staring at these maps as I am seeing something much, much closer to their actual relative sizes and locations than on Google Maps or maps I grew up with.
Warping people's perceptions of size and location to preserve angles is no longer appropriate. The National Geographic Society stopped using Mercator, and so should Google.
At the minimum, people should be offered a choice for viewing the world. It would not be hard to allow a selection of projections for large maps, such as world, hemisphere or continent level. Tell people that they will have to revert to Mercator for smaller areas.
Most of all, you should put a warning on the Mercator projection map stating exactly why you are doing it, and what cost it comes with. Include the widespread opinion that Mercator projection is racist in addition to all other issues.
As it is, I use Google Maps only for small area searches. I try to avert my eyes as I zoom in and out because I am tired of having my mental maps distorted by false projections made for mariners 400 years ago. If you're going to stick with a 400 year old projection, you might as well stick with the knowledge as well. That would truly show the archaic nature of what you are doing - just one giant Terra Australis as the continent of Australia was not known to mariners. Fuzzy lines and dragons in the northern polar regions would be about as accurate as a Mercator projection of Svalbard or Greenland. And make California an island while you're at it.
If you're going to reinforce ignorance, just go whole hog on it.
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