Changes to Google Maps Don't Necessarily Equal Good Cartography
Justin O'Beirne examines the effects of several years of changes to the cartography of Google Maps—perhaps the most popular of the online mapping programs.
Browsing Google Maps over the past year or so, I've often thought that there are fewer labels than there used to be. Google's cartography was revamped three years ago – but surely this didn't include a reduction in labels? Rather, the sparser maps appear to be a recent development.
After digging into side-by-side comparisons of screengrabs taken from Google Maps in 2010 and 2016, O'Beirne notices obvious, and consequential, changes. For instance, Google Maps now has fewer city labels but more roads. In effect, explains O'Beirne, Google Maps has become a network map. "The cities are the nodes. And the roads are the paths between the nodes." [Emphasis in the original.]
O'Beirne concludes that both the 2010 and the 2016 versions of Google Maps suffer from a lack of balance between cities and roads. He does, however, offer an example of a map that achieves this balance more effectively, and even imagines what a Google map of Chicago would look like if it were balanced correctly.