Towards A MapPorn Aesthetic

Let’s think about some of the ways to improve the quality of content on MapPorn. For a long time, I was of the opinion that the community can decide what they like. That’s what the theory is behind the voting.

However, there has been an undercurrent of users who want to have increased moderation. They argue that the content that makes it to the front page is voted on by outside users who don’t share the same values as the core community. I’m not sold on that, but nevertheless I think MapPorn is ready for a metamorphosis.

It’s time to implement scarcity in the MapPorn model. In the past it was a free for all and all kinds of memes and silly maps made it to the front page. This would be followed by a backlash by the core community and negative attitudes.

So it’s time to cull the low-effort content. User made maps will need to have higher standards. In the future, I want it to be such that a map on MapPorn will be a product of scarcity. Content will have to pass a bar set by the moderators.

I should add: this article is only in respect to user made maps. Content from historical or published sources will have different standards. It will be easier to post those maps because they’ve already passed a bar. They are also the results of scarcity.

Now I’d like to talk about guidelines. I use guidelines instead of rules because I think there should be some tolerance and flexibility in these guidelines. They are not meant to be narrowly applied like rules or commandments. For that reason I’m going to be open to users who appeal when their maps are taken down. If they can make a decent case about why it should be approved, I think it’s best to lean towards approving them.

I know some of these maps that are re-approved will be disliked by the community, but that’s common in any online community revolving around aesthetic content. The user has to appeal it though.

No More Choropleth Maps (almost)

Most of the choropleth maps posted to MapPorn are garbage. They are made in simple programs where you input a bunch of data and it spits out the map. They often give nuanced information that is specific to small regions and extrapolate it to large regions. In addition the data is often poorly acquired. These choropleth map makers are often amateurs who don’t understand the nuances of the data.

I’m going to almost always remove choropleth (and heat maps) on sight. The exceptions are for these kinds of maps that show skill and effort in making. Such as including legends, source data, explanations and cartographic touches. Most choropleths only look at one kind of data. If a cartographer can use more data sources and draw truly new and clever inferences from a choropleth map, then I’m all for it. However, I think there is a wide divide between the amateur and the master in this regard.

Simple Comparison Maps No More

Example of Legend

These are widely popular for some reason. However, they get to be quite tiresome. There is little effort in making them. They can take less than a minute to make. Low effort screen shots are worthless.

Missing Title

If your map doesn’t have a title – that’s already several points against. If you’re missing a title or if your map has almost no text – well don’t complain when it gets taken down. Put some more effort into it and try again.

Missing Border

I will grant there are plenty of good maps without a border. However, if you really want to make a good map, you should add a border. It is a useful heuristic that cartographers that include a border are also good at putting effort and craft into their maps. I don’t want to see lazy maps.

Example of Border

Show me that you tried.

Needs expository text and images

Sometimes you need to explain what the user is looking at. How was the data acquired? Quotes of leading authorities on the subject. Inset and detail maps, also vicinity maps. After the user understands the map, then ask ‘what of it?’. Nudge the user to understanding.

Scale, Coordinate Grids, Legends, North Arrows

Did you skip the scale and the north arrow? Better have a good reason. Is the map supposed to show navigation, distance, accurate locations? Needs a coordinate grid. Are there lots of symbols or colors? Where’s the legend?

Don’t be lazy.

Now for a reason that I will not remove maps:

Ideological or Political Maps

I often get requests to take down a map because the complainer does not agree with the politics or ideology. Sorry but that’s not going to cut it. If you don’t agree with somebody’s politics, then it is up to you to rebut them in your comments. If you can’t articulate a coherent counterpoint, then maybe the foundations of your beliefs are not as solid as you think.

If the ideological post is grossly inaccurate or false most of the time it won’t get many upvotes and it’ll get lost with few if any upvotes. Problem solved.


My submission got taken down:

Did you spend more than an hour creating it?

Did the submission to Reddit include an appropriate title?

Is it interesting?

Does the data show a new insight or connect data in a clever way?

Did you include map elements?

  • Legend, North Arrow, Border, Scale
  • Title, Expository Text, Coordinate Grid
  • Contours, terrain

Did you include any design features?

  • Drop shadows, Blurring at boundaries, Appropriate Text Masking
  • Advanced symbology, Appropriate Fonts and Types
  • Water feature text in italic, Tanaka contours or shaded relief
  • Coherent hierarchy, rationale behind color scheme

Do you have a background in a cartographically relevant career?

  • Data scientist, Statistician, Librarian
  • GIS analyst, Land Surveyor, Educator
  • UX/UI Designer, Journalist, Bookseller

Have you read books on Cartography?

  • Cartography. by Kenneth Field
  • General Cartography by Erwin Raisz
  • Cartography: An Introduction by Darkes and Spence
  • A-Z GIS by Wade and Sommer
  • Maps and Civilization by Thrower
  • After the Map by Rankin
  • Info We Trust by RJ Andrews

Are you a member of any map societies?

Have you contributed to OpenStreetMap?

Have you attended and/or presented at a conference related to cartography?