This week, the ArcGIS Online Outreach team started discussing its newest project -“Atlanta Mass Transit: Past, Present, Future.” This project is going to be using the Planning Atlanta collection to access past planning documents for Atlanta’s conversations surrounding transportation. With these documents we plan to make an ESRI Story Map that shows the plans through the decades. Given that the streetcar has raised the level of dialogue around transportation, we hope to contribute to the discussion through this publicly available, online map.

While not all mapping is done on web based platforms, almost all map creation has been digital since the 1990’s. Not only has the way cartographers make maps changed, but technology has changed the way we view maps. What was previously printed off, hung on walls, and folded up to put in glove boxes is now contained on screens of varying sizes. Some digital maps are static, but they are becoming increasingly animated, interactive, and even 3D.

So is the paper map becoming obsolete?

According to Paul Hurst and Paul Clough from the the Royal School of Military Survey, argue that paper maps are still holding strong in the 21st century. In their article Will we be lost without paper maps in the digital age?  in the Journal of Information Science, they discuss their study which examines the the preferred mode of map consumption of experts and non-experts. An expert is someone who is a professional who has expansive experience in paper and digital map creation while a non-expert represents the general public, coming from a wide variety of backgrounds and training. The methodology consisted of a web-based questionnaire, which they used to select people to participate in a task-based user study. This user study tested the ability of the participants to use different forms of maps to way find, investigate, plan, and identify a serious of routes. What they discovered was that maps still fulfill an important niche in both professional and public sector. Professionals prefer to use paper maps while non-experts prefer online/digital maps. Both groups agree, however, that online maps are best for finding information about location and for short/long distance route planning. They also agree that paper maps are preferred for navigation on foot.

The question that comes to my mind when reading about this project is what type of differences would emerge from a closer examination of the non-experts: isn’t that who is typically using our maps anyways? Presently, I would likely identify with the non-expert group that online/digital maps was what I most commonly interested with in my daily life. However, I feel like this is strongly related to the fact that I now have a smart phone.

A year ago, I was that 23 year old, behind the times-owning a flip phone.  Back then I relied on the atlas in the back seat of my car way more than I do now. This experience prompts me to seek a more detailed examination of the variables that are present for members of the public as they make choices on how how and when to use  maps.

Amber Boll