Map Projections

Map Projections for Web Mapping

5607.2 - The influence of the Web Mercator projection on the global-scale cognitive map of web map users

Wednesday, July 5
3:10 PM - 3:30 PM
Location: Maryland B

Since the beginning of the 21st century web mapping services are available for every internet user. In 2017, those services – such as Google Maps, Apple Maps, MapQuest, OpenStreetMap - are widespread in use. Social media websites such as Twitter, Flickr or Facebook incorporate these mashups in their platforms, providing users a way to make personalized web maps. Consequently, the personalization of web maps and the development of Web 2.0 are causing an enormous spread of web maps and cartographic data. The production and use of maps has never been so widely known by different types of internet users – novice or expert in technology and cartography. Nevertheless, issues regarding the cartographic properties of these map services can be pointed out.
The Web Mercator projection is introduced by Google Maps in 2005 and adopted by other web mapping services. Advantages of this projection are conformality, continuous panning and zooming, and north at the top of the map. However, the user should also be aware of the lack of area preservation. The area of countries towards the poles are represented proportionally larger than these near the equator. In 2006, Battersby and Montello conducted research about the area estimation of world regions and the projection of the global-scale cognitive map. The goal of their research was to unravel if map projections had an influence on this global-scale cognitive map of people. The authors discovered that there is almost no influence on the shape of participants’ cognitive maps. They estimated the area quite precisely relative to the actual area of the countries. This research was conducted in the early years of web mapping services. Therefore, the study group were students that were educated with (printed and analogue) atlases and wall maps, which were not always projected with the Mercator projection. However, this is not the case with the web maps. Consequently, it is interesting to focus on a study group that grew up with these internet applications.
The goal of this research is to investigate the influence of the Web Mercator projection on young people. It is assumed that the global-scale cognitive maps of these young people is more influenced than these of the students of 2006, since the use of web maps increased enormously the last decade. The study is built on the study of Battersby and Montello. The study contains an online application with the outline of Europe as reference area. Hereafter other countries are projected, one after the other, on the reference area. Participants can transform the area of these countries by using a slider. In this way the user can change the area of a given country to the size which is considered correct, compared to Europe. Belgian students with a wide variety of study backgrounds are asked to participate. In a second phase students of the United States are requested to do the same study, but with the United States as reference area. Thus, we create possibilities to compare the data of 2006 with these of 2017. Furthermore, data of United States and Belgium, collected in 2017, can be compared as well. An additional questionnaire about their technical and cartographical skills provides a good instrument to detect if the influence is a result of educational materials or of the use of web maps. The outcome of this research give insight into implications of using a certain - potentially misleading - map projection on the global-scale cognitive map of the participants.

Lieselot Lapon

PhD Student
Ghent University

Lieselot Lapon started is a PhD student working at the Department of Geography of Ghent University. Since 2011 she works at the department, designing school atlases, developing educational materials (GeoMobiel) and she did research about the usability of satellite images to detect climate change effects in the Caribbean. In 2015 she started her PhD-research about the usability of webmaps and how these can be improved.


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Kristien Ooms

Ghent University

Kristien Ooms is a postdoctoral researcher at the Department of Geography since 2013. Kristien focuses on cartographic user research to evaluate the usability of (static and interactive) maps using a mixed methods approach. She is specialized in eye tracking in combination with a statistics and visual analytics. Kristien is currently the Chair of the Commission on Use, User, and Usability Issues of the International Cartographic Association.


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Philippe De Maeyer

Prof. Dr.
Universiteit Gent

Philippe De Maeyer is senior full professor in cartography and GIS; he is the chair of the Department of Geography. His research topics cover cartography (esp. historical) and applications of GIS in different domains (such as archaeology, risk calculation and hydrography). He is full member of the Royal Academy of Overseas Sciences and chair of the National Committee of Geography.


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Sarah E. Battersby

Senior Research Scientist
Tableau Research

Sarah Battersby is a Senior Research Scientist at Tableau Software. She is a past president of the Cartography and Geographic Information Society (CaGIS) and is a member of the ICA Commission on Map Projections. Sarah's primary area of focus is cognitive cartography. Her work emphasizes how we can help people visualize and use spatial information more effectively. Her research has covered a variety of areas, including perception in dynamic map displays, geospatial technologies and spatial thinking abilities, and the impact of map projection on spatial cognition.


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5607.2 - The influence of the Web Mercator projection on the global-scale cognitive map of web map users

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