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In the face of strikingly intense technological development, there have been significant discrepancies in the understanding of the concept of the map; an understanding that is fundamental to cartography and, more broadly, GIScience. The development of electronic products based on geoinformation has caused a growing need for the systematization of basic concepts, including defining what a map is. In particular, the modification of the idea of the map may profoundly influence the future development of cartography. The comprehensive and innovative use of maps, for example , in location-based service (LBS) applications, may contribute to more in-depth analyses in this area. This article examines how the concept of how the map is used in technological or scientific literature about the latest geoinformation applications, as well as analyzing the survey results that confirm the change in social perception of the concept of the map in cartography. The article also refers to the role of the map in the process of indirect cognition and understanding of geographical space-cognition realized through maps. A social understanding of mapping concepts is evolving and covers the entire spectrum of geoinformation products. It seems that the latest geoinformation solutions, such as navigation applications and, in particular, applications supporting the movement of autonomous vehicles (e.g., self-driving cars), have had a particular impact on the concept of the map. This is confirmed by the results of a survey conducted by the authors on a group of nearly 900 respondents from a variety of countries. The vast majority of users are convinced that the contemporary understanding of the concept of the map is a long way from the classic definition of this concept. Therefore, in the opinion of the authors of this article, it is worth undertaking research that will become a starting point for a discussion about the broader definition of the map in GIScience.
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ISPRS Int. J. Geo-Inf. 2021, 10, 142.
The Extended Concept of the Map in View of Modern
Geoinformation Products
Dariusz Gotlib
, Robert Olszewski
* and Georg Gartner
Faculty od Geodesy and Cartography, Warsaw University of Technology, 00-661 Warszawa, Poland;
Department of Geodesy and Geoinformation/Research Division Cartography, Vienna University of
Technology, A-1040 Vienna, Austria;
* Correspondence:
Abstract: In the face of strikingly intense technological development, there have been significant
discrepancies in the understanding of the concept of the map; an understanding that is fundamental
to cartography and, more broadly, GIScience. The development of electronic products based on
geoinformation has caused a growing need for the systematization of basic concepts, including de-
fining what a map is. In particular, the modification of the idea of the map may profoundly influence
the future development of cartography. The comprehensive and innovative use of maps, for exam-
ple, in location-based service (LBS) applications, may contribute to more in-depth analyses in this
area. This article examines how the concept of how the map is used in technological or scientific
literature about the latest geoinformation applications, as well as analyzing the survey results that
confirm the change in social perception of the concept of the map in cartography. The article also
refers to the role of the map in the process of indirect cognition and understanding of geographical
space—cognition realized through maps. A social understanding of mapping concepts is evolving
and covers the entire spectrum of geoinformation products. It seems that the latest geoinformation
solutions, such as navigation applications and, in particular, applications supporting the movement
of autonomous vehicles (e.g., self-driving cars), have had a particular impact on the concept of the
map. This is confirmed by the results of a survey conducted by the authors on a group of nearly 900
respondents from a variety of countries. The vast majority of users are convinced that the contem-
porary understanding of the concept of the map is a long way from the classic definition of this
concept. Therefore, in the opinion of the authors of this article, it is worth undertaking research that
will become a starting point for a discussion about the broader definition of the map in GIScience.
Keywords: map definition; cartography theory; navigation application; LBS; HD maps
1. Introduction
There are many contexts in which the terms “map” and “mapping” are used, for
example, in mathematics, logic, biology, cartography, robotics, and computer technology.
These terms are fundamental for cartography, as it is this discipline that deals with the
art, science, and technology of making and using maps [1]. The current ICA (International
Cartographic Association) definition of a map is as follows: “a symbolized representation
of geographical reality representing selected features or characteristics, resulting from the
creative effort of its author’s execution of choices, and is designed for use when a spatial
relationship is of primary relevance”. However, very often one can still find definitions
similar to the following: “a map: graphic representation, drawn to scale and usually on a
flat surface, of features—for example, geographical, geological, or geopolitical—of an area
of the Earth or any other celestial body” [2].
The broad meanings of the terms “map” and “mapping” are worth analyzing be-
cause it also raises the possibility of a universal look at the map in the cartographic sense.
Citation: Gotlib, D.; Olszewski, R.;
Gartner, G. The Extended Concept
of the Map in View of Modern
Geoinformation Products. ISPRS Int.
. Geo-Inf. 2021, 10, 142.
Academic Editors: Christos Chalkias
and Wolfgang Kainz
Received: 21 January 2021
Accepted: 1 March 2021
Published: 5 March 2021
Publisher’s Note: MDPI stays neu-
tral with regard to jurisdictional
claims in published maps and insti-
tutional affiliations.
Copyright: © 2021 by the author.
Licensee MDPI, Basel, Switzerland.
This article is an open access article
distributed under the terms and
conditions of the Creative Commons
Attribution (CC BY) license
ISPRS Int. J. Geo-Inf. 2021, 10, 142 2 of 16
Due to limitations and assumptions, however, this paper mainly focuses on the carto-
graphic/geoinformation context.
Princeton’s WordNet [3] defines mapping as “a mathematical relation such that each
element of a given set (the domain of the function) is associated with an element of another
set (the range of the function)”. Mapping in mathematics “applies to any set: a collection
of objects, such as all whole numbers, all the points on a line, or all those inside a circle”
[4]. Based on studies in mathematics (e.g., [5]), we can also conclude that “a map is often
associated with some structure, particularly a set constituting the codomain”.
In cartographic theory, the term “map” is often used as a synonym for morphism or
arrow; thus, it is more general than function [6]. A map is usually the result of mapping
[7,8]. A specific case of mapping is cartographic modeling, in which objects and phenom-
ena in space (usually geographical) are assigned their representations in such a way as to
be able to analyze the spatial relationships between them. Although, it should be noted
that the concept of cartographic modeling has, so far, been considered in a narrow sense,
often in the context of so-called Map Algebra, a vocabulary and conceptual framework for
classifying ways to combine map data to produce new maps [9]. In this work, we will use
the concept of cartographic modeling in a broader sense as a subset of the process of con-
ceptual modeling defined in ISO 19101. According to Baranowski, Gotlib, and Olszewski
[10,11], cartographic modeling should be understood both as the process of creating a
conceptual model of space and as the process of modeling cartographic presentation. The
fundamental advantage of cartographic modeling is that a map, despite a significant re-
duction in spatial dimensions compared to reality, allows the mutual distribution of im-
portant objects and phenomena to be shown and analyzed regardless of the size of the
modeled area [12].
In the age of the Industry 4.0 revolution and the emerging geoinformation society, it
is not only cartographers who define the map concept or its essence, function, and mean-
ing but also the users of various geoinformation products. The map, understood as a
model, enables not only the methodical inventorying of the surrounding space but also its
changes to be forecast, as well as enabling its analysis, multi-criteria evaluation, and un-
derstanding. Despite technological progress, the essence of the cartographic method for
modeling space has not changed, and the ability to abstract and extract spatial properties
at a given level of conceptual generalization still plays a focal role. However, new chal-
lenges emerge, such as those resulting from the development and dissemination of VR
technology. So far, cartography has visualized spatial data from the outside, that is, from
a third-person perspective, while users of VR (Virtual Reality) applications experience im-
mersive environments rather from the inside, that is, from the first-person viewpoint [13].
The concept of abstraction in cartography is also taking on a new meaning as the repre-
sentation comes closer and closer to the original in terms of both scale and appearance.
The scope of the methodology and tasks facing modern cartography hinges on the
definition of the map and its purpose. If the map is defined only as a graphic representa-
tion of reality, then the development of the methodology will focus on visualization. In
this case, the emphasis is on developing a clear graphic presentation. The interpretation
of such a map requires a visual analysis by the user. However, if we conclude that the
purpose of the map is to provide information about geographic space using sound, or text,
or even only bits, if we consider the map as a structure for providing information, then
cartographic methodology will begin to develop in a new direction in line with the latest
technological trends. This is, of course, just a simplified example. The ongoing develop-
ment of cartographic products raises t he qu estion as to whether the development of geoin-
formatics, the changes in recording information about space (a digital form using spatial
databases), and communication methods alter the essence of cartographic activity. Is it
possible to claim that the essence of modeling remains unchanged despite the revolution-
ary development of geoinformation/IT tools that automate the process of cartographic
ISPRS Int. J. Geo-Inf. 2021, 10, 142 3 of 16
The authors of this article wanted to research how the development of modern digital
technologies, especially geoinformation technologies, affects the understanding of what a
map is. It is interesting, both from a practical and from a scientific perspective, to deter-
mine whether the map is now associated with both a graphic image and a visualization
process, and if so, to what extent. The authors have hypothesized that the map concept
employed in the field of geoinformation is used, in practice, very widely and not only in
the context of visualization; however, at the same time, there are significant discrepancies
in its understanding. If this is true, it means that efforts should be made to refine and
universally define the concept of the map in a way that accounts for the extremely rapidly
changing technologies. The purpose of the analyses carried out by this article’s authors
was to join the discussion on the theoretical foundations of cartography and contribute to
the in-depth research on the essence of the modern map, as well as attempting to formu-
late some universal design principles that are common to both traditional and the most
innovative cartographic products, for example, maps for autonomous navigation. It is also
important to analyze the perception of the role played by the map and the way it is un-
derstood in social terms, as well as juxtaposing academic definitions with the map user’s
understanding. Due to the development of the information society and the widespread
use of geoinformation technologies, it is also interesting to ask about the role and nature
of the contemporary map. Is it a source of the objective cognition of space or a subjective
reflection of this space that carries the message of its creator?
Analyzing the way in which location-based service (LBS) applications operate on
spatial information (acquisition, processing, and transferring) should help in the debate
on map definition.
2. Related Works
Andrews [14] presented as many as 321 different definitions for the term “map”,
most of which include the following wording: “[the] map is a representation of […]”.
Around 80% of these definitions discuss “visual representation” or “graphic representa-
tion”, but some deal with representations or models in a more generalized sense without
referring to visualization. Kraak and Fabrikant [15] also raised this issue, writing that a
map plays the role of “a visual interface to a virtual or real environment, and shows only
a selection, thus an abstraction, of the envisaged environment”.
Over thirty years ago, Visvalingam [16] stated that spatial databases are not just data
repositories but rather digital models of geographical space. Spatial databases constitute
a holistic model of geographical space. Furthermore, Clarke, Johnson, and Trainor [17]
have now claimed that “maps are models of the earth because they are simplified abstrac-
tions of earth’s attributes distributed over space”. The authors also assert that “maps are
components in data fusion in that they are a chief means to relate data by colocation in
time and space, and that they provide important inputs for models that can be descriptive,
interpretive, predictive, and probabilistic”. However, the limitations imposed by the au-
thors in modeling only the Earth are debatable since the cartographic modeling process
can be used to abstract objects, phenomena, and processes in a given space; for example,
celestial bodies or imagined worlds in computer games, etcetera.
Cartwright and Ruas [18] claimed that “the increasing availability of data about the
world, and maps that represent this data, creates both a tremendous potential source of
knowledge, but also generates the need for methods, models, and expertise to turn this
data into usable information to gain new knowledge about the world […]”.
In a general, mathematical sense, mapping is a transformation from one form to an-
other. According to Rystedt [7], a map should be the result of mapping, and these terms
should be considered in a geospatial context. Geographic databases and virtual realities
are the results of a mapping process, which is a transformation from observation to a dig-
ital representation.
Wood [19] states that “cartography should be defined as a unique facility for the cre-
ation and manipulation of visual (or virtual) representations of geospace […] to permit
ISPRS Int. J. Geo-Inf. 2021, 10, 142 4 of 16
the exploration, analysis, comprehension, and communication of information about that
space”. While Gartner [20] claimed that “cartographic principles remain unchanged, the
most important one being that maps are an abstraction of reality”.
There appears to be a significant difference between these approaches. The second
one is more universal, disentangling the concept of the map from a form of cartographic
communication, as well as justifying the classification of many new digital products as
This issue of defining the map was also discussed in research by Harley [21], Robin-
son et al. [22], Kraak and Ormeling [23], Sismondo and Chrisman [24], Jacob [25], and
Kitchin and Dodge [26]. All of these works, to a greater or lesser degree, associate cartog-
raphy with visualization.
What seems to remain unquestioned is that the map is a model of reality, a concept
that dates back as far as the work of Board [27] and Kolácný [28]. However, over recent
decades, the idea has evolved, both in its essence and in its significance. A map is a model
with specific characteristics that distinguish it from other models [16,29]. Spatial models
are almost exclusively recorded using technological or IT methods, and their creation con-
forms to the same—or similar—rules as any other IT product.
The process of cartographic modeling should be equated with emphasizing the mul-
tiscale relations between phenomena modeled at different levels of generalization [29]. It
is close to the approach used in data mining techniques: data processing serves to explic-
itly reveal connections and relationships that occur implicitly in the source database. This
allows us to state that the goal of cartography is to model space and not only to visualize
spatial data using defined libraries of graphic symbols.
Lapaine [8] proposed his own definition for cartographic mapping, being a “process
that associates a set of spatially related data with another set called a representation or
model or map while preserving spatial arrangements and by simplifying detail”. It should
be noted that this is a universal definition of a map, which does not identify the mapping
process with the visualization of spatial data.
The importance of non-graphical forms of cartographic model representation is par-
ticularly evident in LBS applications, especially for autonomous navigation systems.
Vardhan [30] argues that “in this era of autonomous vehicles, where machines and
robots need to make decisions on roads, we need a new set of maps, purposefully built
for robotic systems”. The development of autonomous vehicle (AV) technology also ne-
cessitates a reflection on the cartography area. The map is one of the key components of
such systems. Imagine something similar to that used in standard car navigation applica-
tions, only with much higher resolution, and the creation of the vehicle’s surroundings in
real mode, are both used (HD Maps). In most cases, the map used to be a product whose
end-user was a human being; but in this case, the map is to be used by a machine/com-
puter. From the perspective of cartographic theory, this poses new methodological chal-
lenges. To what extent are we dealing with a map, and to what extent solely with data?
The technical literature or publicity material provided by the companies creating systems
for autonomous vehicles commonly uses the terms “HD Map” or “map data” [31,32].
The following interesting view on the map concept was presented by Chellapilla:
(1) Mapping as pre-computation: from self-driving technology, the mapping operation
includes everything we can do to pre-compute things before the AV starts driving.
(2) Map as a unique sensor: at runtime, the map is viewed by the autonomy system as a
sensor with unique perception and prediction capabilities.
(3) Map as a shared data structure that lives both in the cloud and also docked in each
of the AVs. [33]
Other interesting considerations on the connection between modern geoinformation
products and cartography are presented in [13]. In their research, the authors analyze VR
technology, which may appear at first to be a far cry from the principles of cartographic
presentations. They focus on the issue of scale, which, in this case, can be described as 1:1,
ISPRS Int. J. Geo-Inf. 2021, 10, 142 5 of 16
and argue that geovisualization immersive virtual environments should be objects of car-
tographic research. Therefore, in research in the field of cartography and broadly geoin-
formation, particular attention should be paid to this type of product and its impact on
changes in the social perception of the concept of the map.
3. Research Methodology
The inspiration for this research came from long-term observations of market trends
in new geoinformation products, following cartographic literature, and repeated discus-
sions on the importance of cartography and the concept of the map within the scientific
milieu and the production environment of cartographers and geoinformation specialists.
Despite the unprecedented rate of development of products that provide information
about space, there has been very little, if any, proportional increase in the number of car-
tographic publications or cartographic research teams. The mere number of scientific jour-
nals with the word “cartography” in the title confirms this, as the favored expression is
either the broader concept of “geoinformation” or “GIScience”.
With these observations as a starting point, the authors adopted the following re-
search methodology: first, various definitions used in cartography and beyond for the
word “map” were reviewed. An analysis of all cartographic products, including the latest,
is an enormous and time-consuming task that goes beyond the first planned stage of this
research. Therefore, the authors decided to, first, analyze those most recent products that
had undergone the most dynamic changes and that had strong links to the latest techno-
logical trends (big data, cloud computing, augmented reality, Internet of Things, artificial
intelligence). These products included location-based services [34]. In this group, naviga-
tion systems—the most innovative of which are car navigation systems without a driver—
received the most attention. The use of these systems has not become ubiquitous yet, but
the world’s most significant car and IT companies (Google, Tesla, BMW, Audi, Nissan,
Toyota, NVIDIA, Microsoft, Intel, TomTom, Here, etc.) are currently researching this area.
In the authors’ research, this constituted a case study. The authors assumed that the recent
period of technological development has often seen revolutionary changes, first in enter-
prises, and only then followed by the development of pertinent scientific theories. Thus,
the authors decided to review technical and popular science publications issued by com-
panies that create innovative navigation solutions.
On the other hand, the authors also assumed that when discussing such a widely
used concept as the map, it is also necessary to analyze its contemporary social perception.
Therefore, the authors devised a survey that was initially carried out on a group of several
hundred people from Poland. Conducting preliminary research allowed a hypothesis to
be formulated regarding the broad understanding of the term “map” by people who were
not professional cartographers, as well as by specialists in this field. Because the survey
was conducted only among Polish-speaking people, verification of the research hypothe-
ses required a significant expansion of the group of respondents. The authors decided to
develop three additional language versions of the survey for people who speak English,
German, and Chinese. The German language was selected as a result of an Austrian uni-
versity’s inclusion in the research, while English was chosen as it serves as the primary
language of science and is used globally. The authors considered the Chinese question-
naire to be supplementary; it allowed for preliminary checks on whether there were sig-
nificant differences in map perception outside European countries and in a language that
was completely different and outside the Indo-European family. It also acted as an intro-
duction to broader future research. After the analysis, the authors decided to show these
studies at the present stage. The research carried out in the second phase not only allowed
the initial research concepts to be verified but also an introduction to future broader re-
search of the analysis of cultural and linguistic similarities and differences related to the
social perception of the map concept.
The authors began their research by surveying a group of their students, as well as
scientists from their universities and friends. An online link to the survey was also made
ISPRS Int. J. Geo-Inf. 2021, 10, 142 6 of 16
available on internal cartographic forums. With the research being conducted remotely
and anonymously, the questions, content, and form of the online survey were checked
with a team from applied social sciences and approved by the ethics board.
The first phase of the research was carried out by the Warsaw University of Technol-
ogy (WUT) on a sample of people from Poland between November 2018 and April 2019;
while the second phase of the survey was carried out in cooperation with the Vienna Uni-
versity of Technology (TU Wien) between March 2020 and April 2020 on a sample of peo-
ple from many other countries. Research questionnaires are still available online, and the
research is continuing. The participation of language groups in the survey is shown in
Figure 1.
Figure 1. The participation of language groups in the survey.
A greater number of language groups are presented in the diagram than there were
language versions of the questionnaire, as people from a greater number of countries par-
ticipated in the study. In the first phase, students from several Polish universities, high
school students, professional cartographers and geoinformation experts, working people,
and retirees were encouraged to participate in the survey. In the second phase, the re-
search focused on, among others, students from TU Wien university, professional cartog-
raphers and geoinformation experts from various universities around the world, as well
as users of social networking sites related to geoinformation applications (mainly geoawe- and related Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn pages). A total of 874 people took
part in the survey. Both professionals dealing with cartography (49%) and non-profes-
sionals (51%) were part of the research. Nearly half of the participants (49%) “often use
analog maps” and 82% “often use digital maps”. Nearly 42% of participants were women,
and 59% were men. Five hundred fifty-three respondents (63%) held a university degree.
One-third of respondents dealt with IT (in a broad sense), and every third participant had
an engineering education. The age distribution of participants is presented in Figure 2. All
age groups were represented, but the vast majority of users were in the range of 19–50
years, with the largest group being students.
ISPRS Int. J. Geo-Inf. 2021, 10, 142 7 of 16
Figure 2. The age distribution of participants.
The respondents answered the following questions:
Whether giving voice instructions or graphical navigation instructions (e.g., turn
right, go straight, etc.), does your navigation system use a map?
Do you think blind people can use a map?
Do you think the autopilot uses a map to control the flight?
Do you think a map can be three-dimensional?
Do you think that autonomous cars (self-driving cars) need a map to move cor-
In your opinion, can a map be virtual, i.e., not have a physical form, e.g., paper?
Do you think that it is possible to use a map in a navigation system without looking
at a screen?
Do you think a map is an objective or a subjective reflection of reality by the cartog-
Please assess which product can be considered, in your opinion, as a map, which
uses a map and which cannot be considered a map?
A list to choose from:
Google Maps Portal; Database with the location of roads, addresses, and road signs
used by the car navigation application; Satellite image of the Earth’s surface; Photo of the
city taken from a tall building; Schema of a metro line; Architectural and constructional
design of the building; Illustration showing historical changes in the country’s borders in
a school textbook; Drawing of ski trails on an information board in the mountains; Paper
road atlas; GPS-based application supporting a tourist’s movements in the mountains;
Dynamic visualization overtime of the weather forecast showing expected rainfall; Voice
guide advising a tourist on the route and describing the monuments and views on the
way; Car navigation application; Globe showing the countries of the world.
The respondents had to answer “Yes”, “No”, “I don’t know”, or “It depends” for the
first eight questions. For the ninth question, a list of products was given, and respondents
had to choose one of four answers: “Can be considered a map”, “Uses a map”, “Cannot
be considered a map”, or “I don’t know”, The products mentioned in this question were
selected in such a way that not all were related to maps; in some cases, these products
were very far removed from cartography. This approach limited the set of suggestions
available for each of the answers the users responded to.
In addition to simple answers (selection from the list), respondents could present
their views in the form of an open comment (this was usually possible after choosing the
“It depends” option). Participants in the research could also express their views on the
ISPRS Int. J. Geo-Inf. 2021, 10, 142 8 of 16
definition of the concept of the map. This option was used unexpectedly often by the re-
spondents who spoke English, German, Chinese, and Polish.
The remaining questions were aimed at defining age, gender, language used, educa-
tion, and experience in using maps. These were standard questions, constituting research
metrics that were necessary to determine the demographic and social characteristics of the
respondent and the statement. A potential effect of these characteristics on the expressed
views was assumed”.
The research team conducted a series of discussions that preceded the process of de-
fining these questions. The team hypothesized that new geoinformation products, partic-
ularly modern navigation systems, have broadened the past understanding of the term
“map” (i.e., that from several years or decades ago). The literature analyses, including the
vocabulary used in technological studies, confirmed this. Consequently, the authors de-
cided to ask questions (1–8) that were related to LBS products and products that deviated
from the classic definition of a map as a graphic image on a plane with a scale. The selected
questions were thought-provoking, without obvious answers, and devised so that nega-
tive answers were produced among respondents with a predominantly classical approach
to the concept of the map in cartography. At the same time, question number 9 presented
a range of products associated with spatial presentation, but that partially deviated from
even the broad understanding of the cartographic concept of a map. To some extent, these
questions were to enable control over the consistency of the answers to questions 1 to 8
and, at the same time, divert the respondents’ attention from concentrating on LBS-related
products. The list of products in question 8, resulted from previous research on selecting
cartographic modeling features, presented, for example, in Baranowski et al. [10].
4. Results and Discussion
4.1. Results of the Questionnaires: The Multi-Choice Questions
Figure 3 presents a summary of the answers to the first five key questions and two
additional questions.
It is worth paying attention to several of the results. The research showed that almost
three-quarters of respondents believed that they could use a car navigation system with-
out looking at the screen. Nearly two-thirds of respondents believed that the visually im-
paired could use a map. The same number of respondents stated that an airplane autopilot
also uses a map. The vast majority of respondents (as many as 689, nearly 80%) claimed
that autonomous cars need a map to drive correctly. Note that the vast majority of re-
spondents concluded that a map could be three-dimensional (91%) as well as virtual
(96.8% of respondents).
Figure 4 presents a review of the answers to the question concerning what respond-
ents were willing to consider a map. In addition, respondents also considered classic car-
tographic products, such as a topographic map, a globe, or a road atlas. They were also
asked for their opinion on various types of images, photos, and drawings. In the context
of this article, the answers to these questions were only auxiliary, and an analysis of them
will be carried out separately.
Most respondents believed strongly that LBS applications are maps or use maps. The
difference in the assessment of “Car navigation application” and “Google Maps Portal”
(web site) is very interesting. While in the first case, 40% of study participants held the
view that such a product could be considered a map, in the second case, it was as much
as 80%. Although Google Maps is used as a navigation system and web version, it is, in
fact, a quite similar product, especially in terms of its description of space and information
content (the main difference is in the way it is used). The answers to the question about
“Database with the location of roads [...]” were also significant: in this case, almost three-
quarters of respondents associated this product with the concept of a map.
ISPRS Int. J. Geo-Inf. 2021, 10, 142 9 of 16
Figure 3. The first group of questions: summary of the answers from the study.
ISPRS Int. J. Geo-Inf. 2021, 10, 142 10 of 16
Figure 4. The answers to question No. 9.
ISPRS Int. J. Geo-Inf. 2021, 10, 142 11 of 16
When analyzing the respondents’ answers, it should be stated that some questions
raised further doubts. For example, 453 respondents considered a satellite image of the
Earth’s surface to be a map, while 321 were of the opposite opinion.
When answering the various questions, respondents rarely chose the “I don’t know”
option. The only notable exception was when they were asked about the database used
by car navigation systems. In this case, probably because some specialist knowledge was
required, more than 25% (215 people) were unsure which answer was right.
When analyzing the survey results, it should be emphasized that the vast majority of
responses to individual questions were consistent across respondents using different lan-
guages. The only exception was the issue of the subjectivity/objectivity of the cartographic
information message. The map was a cartographer’s subjective way of seeing reality for
62% of English-speaking respondents (14% were of the opposite opinion). The people who
spoke German thought similarly (49% against 34%, respectively). Opinions on this issue
were evenly distributed among Polish respondents, while for most Chinese people (57%),
the map was an objective reflection of reality; only 30% of Chinese speakers said the op-
The issue of the subjectivity or objectivity of cartographic products certainly affects
the way maps are defined. This issue of objectivity (or subjectivity) of the cartographic
message also influences the way the recipient learns about and understands the world
through maps. It is, therefore, worth considering this problem in more detail and, in fact,
recalling previous research in this field. The reason why the authors of this article asked
this question was due to the epistemological concepts used in cartography and the as-
sumption that during the cognition process, the map mediates between the cognizing sub-
ject and the cognized object [35]. Thus, Aslanikashvili [36], a Georgian cartographer,
stated that working on a map is tantamount to learning about a certain aspect of reality—
the space of objects and phenomena. The concept of the Georgian cartographer was fur-
ther developed by Weibel [37,38]. He emphasized that a cartographic modeling process
requires an understanding of space. The sense of this understanding is to get to know the
spatial distribution of objects and phenomena, their mutual interactions, as well as the
processes that shape geographical space and manifest different intensities, depending on
the observational scale being considered. Therefore, if a map is a tool for learning about
geographical space, then the question of the objectivity/subjectivity of the map is of key
importance. This question was posed by both Salishcev [39] and Robinson et al. [22].
This issue can also be viewed through the eighteenth-century transcendental philos-
ophy of Immanuel Kant [40]: Are map models objective representations of reality? Or do
they shape the subjective image of reality created by a cartographer and reflected in the
mind of the recipient? On the one hand, “to represent reality” means to reflect the ele-
ments of the outside world through maps, which implies objectivism and empiricism (sen-
sible knowledge). On the other, the second approach, “to create reality”, means that maps
are manifestations of the author’s subjectivism and idealism. Wood [41] claimed that maps
are “weapons of power that create the territory desired by those empowered to make and
enforce maps”, so cartographers construct the world, they do not reproduce it. Thus, one
cannot build a concept of what things are that is separate from our senses. Based on Kant’s
philosophy, it can be stated that the essence of the mapping process is the methodical
modeling of transcendental reality in the form of a cartographically structured spatial
knowledge base.
Considering the question of how objective or subjective a map—understood as a
model of geographical space—is for the recipient of a cartographic product, the authors
of this article defined this question in the survey. In analyzing these results, however, it is
necessary to take into account the diverse character of the completed questionnaires
across different languages (Figure 1).
4.2. Results of the Questionnaires: The Open Question
ISPRS Int. J. Geo-Inf. 2021, 10, 142 12 of 16
Apart from analyzing the answers to the closed questions, the reflection on the defi-
nition of the term “map” by individual respondents was also interesting. The vast major-
ity of people taking part in the survey decided to answer this question. The way in which
the essence of the map is defined differs significantly depending on the nationality of the
people participating in the survey.
Of those who completed the English-language questionnaire (66% of all respond-
ents), 169 provided their own definitions for the concept of the map. Of these, 109 pro-
vided definitions that referred to other forms of maps and not only to the graphical form
or visualization. In turn, 46 people related their definition closely with graphics (visuali-
zation), while in the case of 13 answers, it was difficult to assess the definition in terms of
a connection with visualization.
An analysis of the participants’ own definitions allowed the five most frequently
used words to describe the essence of maps to be selected. For English-speakers, these
were representation, information, spatial, world, and location (See Figure 5). None of
these words refer directly to the concept of visualization and the graphical way of pre-
senting spatial data.
Out of those people who completed the German-language questionnaire (49%), 40
respondents provided their own definitions. Of these, 22 provided definitions that re-
ferred to other forms of maps and not only to the graphical form or visualization, while
11 people related them closely with graphics (visualization). In seven answers, it was dif-
ficult to assess the definition in terms of a connection with visualization. The five most
common words used to describe maps by German-speaking respondents were Darstel-
lung, Abbildung, Orientierung, Umgebung, and Informationen (in translation: presenta-
tion, illustration, orientation, environment, and information) (see Figure 5).
Of the respondents who completed the Polish-language questionnaire (13%), 63 pro-
vided their own definitions. Of these, 29 provided definitions that referred to other forms
of maps and not only to the graphical form or visualization, and 24 people related their
definition closely with graphics (visualization). The five most common words used to de-
scribe a map by Polish-speaking respondents were (translated into English. See Figure 5)
information, reality, image, terrain, and scale.
Due to a lack of linguistic qualifications, and the low number of definitions provided
by the Chinese survey (only 20), the authors refrained from carrying out a detailed anal-
ysis at this stage.
The selected keywords in Figure 5 are merely an outline. There was no detailed lin-
guistic analysis, and the authors only used the tool and automatically gener-
ated words after removing conjunctions, prepositions, prefixes, and similar short words.
The authors continue their research in this area and plan on presenting more detailed
analyses in a separate paper.
Figure 5. The five most common words used by respondents from the main linguistic groups to
define the term “map”.
ISPRS Int. J. Geo-Inf. 2021, 10, 142 13 of 16
Table 1 shows some of the definitions provided by the respondents (Table 1).
Table 1. Samples of the definitions of a map.
Native Language Definition of the Term “Map
an abstract representation of spatial relationships
a representation of spatial information
spatial organization of geographically referenced data
Definition of the term “map” (in English translation)
a simplified and generalized representation of the world
a representation and illustration of reality used to transmit information
a representation of spatial information, using such forms as text, voice, graphics, etc.
a model of reality that shows the position of objects and
a simplified description of reality
an image of the world in greater or lesser distortion
4.3. Summary
In summing up this research, it should be stated that for the dominant part of re-
spondents, who in representing different cultures, places of residence, and different lan-
guages, had an extremely broad understanding of maps, and for whom the cartographic
modeling process was characteristic. There was no significant relationship between the
responses and the gender of the research participants. As shown in Figure 4, the respond-
ents called the following items, maps: traditional car atlases, navigation applications, ge-
oportals, ski trail diagrams, the architectural and construction drawings of buildings, road
databases, satellite images, and even ordinary photos. Of course, these were not the an-
swers given by all respondents. In some cases, the respondent was very uncertain, for
example, concerning car navigation databases. A comparable number of people consid-
ered such products to be maps and had the opposite opinion. A similar group stated that
this type of product only uses maps.
The distribution of answers shows the logic of the respondents’ statements–they
were not accidental. The smallest percentage of respondents considered a photo taken
from a building to be a map (while the largest number of people rejected it). The largest
percentage of respondents considered a traditional car atlas to be a map. It is worth noting
that the Google Maps portal was definitely treated as a map. However, the respondents
generally had a problem determining which product was a map and which only used a
The answers to the first seven questions turned out to be very clear. This can be seen
in Figure 5. The respondents had no doubts that a map can be virtual and three-dimen-
sional, that we can use the map in navigation systems without looking at the screen, that
blind people can use a map, and that a map is used by navigation applications, steering
systems for autonomous vehicles, and autopilot in an airplane.
Thus, in a more or less conscious way, the respondents confirmed that, for them, the
graphic form of a map was not crucial in calling the product a map. They were also aware
that the recipient (user) of the map was no longer necessarily a human being.
In the authors’ opinion, the definitions proposed by the users indicate that there is a
lack of significant differences caused by the use of different languages and that there is a
similar social understanding of the term “map”. The vast majority of respondents consid-
ered maps to be models of geographical space that facilitate (or even enable) navigation.
A significant proportion of the study’s participants also indicated that maps were carriers
of information, not graphic images. This broad understanding of the role played by the
map today is particularly valuable in an era of widespread use of navigation and LBS
ISPRS Int. J. Geo-Inf. 2021, 10, 142 14 of 16
The results of the survey lead to the conclusion that the contemporary public’s per-
ception of the concept of the map is extensive and far different from the “flat graphic rep-
resentation at a specific scale”. Indirectly, the respondents declared that they did not as-
sociate the concept of the map solely with a visualization. Visualization is not a prerequi-
site for the existence of maps. The research, therefore, confirms that the map is a model of
geographical reality that can be communicated to the recipient in many ways by utilizing
many senses. Equally important, these results confirm the thesis that the respondents rec-
ognized that the recipient of the cartographic modeling process does not have to be a hu-
man; it may well be a machine, understood, for example, as an autonomous vehicle.
5. Conclusions
The research conducted by the authors of this article has demonstrated that the de-
velopment of technology (primarily digital technology) significantly influences the public
perception of the role of cartography and the meaning of the map. The concept of a map
is understood much more broadly now than in the era of analog cartography. The survey
results also show that the respondents, regardless of their age, gender, or language, rec-
ognize the association between modern geoinformation products and the map under-
stood as a model of reality. Therefore, modern cartography’s role is to adapt geoinfor-
mation products to the needs of a wide range of consumers of contemporary maps, in-
cluding those who do not use graphic images as a source of information about surround-
ing space.
When understood as an organized spatial dataset, a map becomes an essential ele-
ment not only of interpersonal communication but also in the decision-making processes
performed by robots, as exemplified by M2M (machine to machine) communication.
Therefore, the contemporary definition of the map should be more universal, covering
current and, if possible, future needs and technologies. We can make the determination
that “a map means arranging data and giving them a proper structure in a way that is
appropriate for cartography, according to a particular data model, to ensure optimal spa-
tial information communication” [42,43].
The scientific research and, especially, the technological considerations presented in
this article demonstrate that maps are becoming a fully-fledged and, sometimes, a funda-
mental component of information systems. Consequently, it is essential to look at the pro-
cess of map design and definition as being akin to the other elements of IT systems.
According to the assumptions adopted by the authors, the cartographic symboliza-
tion’s language does not have to be limited to graphic symbols.
Taking into account the results of the research, one may state that the current ICA [1]
definition for maps: “a symbolized image of geographical reality […]”, may remain rele-
vant in the context of developing these new cartographic products, but when assuming a
broad understanding of the word “symbolized”. That is, only if the understanding of this
term is not limited to graphic symbols but applies to various forms of transferring infor-
mation, in particular, bit representation, which is understood by machines. On the other
hand, there is yet another way of thinking that treats a map only as one of several forms
of spatial information communication (alongside sound, text, etc.). However, one should
analyze the consequences of this approach for the development of cartography. This
greatly limits this field of research as well as implementation activities. Perhaps, in this
case, the ICA [1] definition of cartography could be modified without limiting it to “mak-
ing a map and using a map” (understood in such a narrow sense). The authors of this
research are inclined to state that a map should be treated as a specific, ordered infor-
mation structure and not as a method of presenting spatial data. However, this requires
further research and discussion among the broader scientific community.
Author Contributions: Conceptualization, Dariusz Gotlib and Robert Olszewski; methodology, Da-
riusz Gotlib, Georg Gartner, and Robert Olszewski; validation, Georg Gartner, Dariusz Gotlib, and
Robert Olszewski; investigation, Georg Gartner, Dariusz Gotlib, and Robert Olszewski; data
ISPRS Int. J. Geo-Inf. 2021, 10, 142 15 of 16
curation, Dariusz Gotlib; writing—original draft preparation, Dariusz Gotlib and Robert Olszewski;
writing—review and editing, Georg Gartner, Dariusz Gotlib, and Robert Olszewski; funding acqui-
sition, Georg Gartner, Dariusz Gotlib, and Robert Olszewski. All authors have read and agreed to
the published version of the manuscript.
Funding: This work was supported by the Warsaw University of Technology and the Vienna Uni-
versity of Technology (TU Wien).
Institutional Review Board Statement: Ethical review and approval were waived for this study,
due to the research was carried out in the form of a fully anonymous online survey with no sensitive
questions. All questions were consulted with the team conducting applied social research at the
Warsaw University of Technology. People taking part in the survey consciously consented to an-
swering individual questions.
Informed Consent Statement: Informed consent was obtained from all subjects involved in the
Data Availability Statement: Data sharing not applicable—no new data generated.
Acknowledgments: We want to express our sincere thanks to Francisco Porras, Silvia Klettner, and
Wangshu Wang from the Research Division Cartography (Department of Geodesy and Geoinfor-
mation|TU Wien) for their support in the preparation of the multilingual research questionnaires.
Conflicts of Interest: No potential conflict of interest has been reported by the authors.
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In this contribution, we first focus on maps as landmarks of cartographic innovation in the context of societal and technical developments in history. This historical analysis stimulated us to offer a new definition for the map that reflects our intention to provide a succinct and flexible, yet inclusive and sustainable definition of our discipline for years to come. We then turn to cartography itself, by analyzing the sustainability of past and current disciplinary definitions, as proposed by its leading professional body, the International Cartographic Association (ICA). In the fourth section, we then go on to analyze the structure and activities of the ICA over the recent past, with the aim to further understand the professional development of the cartographic discipline. Finally, we also consider how the geography of the ICA, that is, the geographic origins of the leading members of the organization, including the executive board members and the chairs of ICA Commissions and Working Groups, might have influenced the shaping of the cartographic discipline.
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The identity of cartography is determined by the manner of defining and interpreting the concept of “map”. However, the term has not been unequivocally articulated as yet. There are many different definitions of maps available in literature – from those viewing map as a scaled-down, planar, graphic representation of geographical space, to those that equate a map to a specific model that is independent of the form of its presentation. Interestingly enough, the basis of such universal treatment of the map concept can be found already in the scientific works from the 1960s. Although contemporary definitions do not limit a map to a single form of presentation, such over-simplification still persists. The issue has become very relevant given the rapidly increasing number of diverse geospatial applications designed to access spatial data and present it in diverse forms. So far, however, there are no clear rules for categorizing a given representation as cartographic or non-cartographic. And this often gives rise to various misconceptions, e.g. regarding the role and responsibilities of cartography as science and practical activity. According to the authors of the article, a map is an ordered informational structure shaped by the years of practical experience and research in the field of cartography. Map arising in the process of cartographic modelling is understood as one of many possible models of the portrayed space. The model is formed in the course of thought processes, including abstraction and generalization in particular. Creation of the model involves the use of symbolism that can be decoded by the recipient. This does not mean, however, that the process of symbolization is limited exclusively to graphical representations. Map is also a tool for presenting spatial information in a visual, digital or tactile way. Therefore, the essence of map is determined by its “model” nature rather than the format of the cartographic message. The authors have assumed that map is formed in the process of cartographic modelling and certain properties of the process can be defined, that distinguish it from other methods of spatial modelling. The properties recognized as characteristic for cartographic modelling include space portraying that enables identification of types of objects and phenomena, describing spatial relationships between objects, as well as their positioning in the applied reference system. In the authors’ opinion, properties of cartographic modelling include also the intentional application of a specific level of generalization determined by the objective of the map, aware authorship of the message, unambiguity of communication and symbolization based on knowledge. The proposed approach should facilitate the classification of different products designed to represent space.
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The article focuses on the cartographic design aspects of mobile navigation and location applications. The relation- ship between the conceptual model of spatial data and the cartographic presentation model is discussed. An example of a formal description of cartographic presentation that uses the concepts: partial geocomposition, cartographic information transmission unit, cartographic event, geovisualization window and elementary geovisualization is presented. The paper shows potential benefits of applying the proposed methodology; primarily the ability to create a description of cartographic presentation, which is independent of specific technologies used by the applications of different manufacturers.
It is suggested that initial development focuses on the design and implementation of amplified intelligence systems capable of handling generalization tasks that are relatively narrowly defined and well researched, such as feature selection, or line simplification and smoothing. These prototypes could serve as a basis for evaluating and developing specialized user interfaces and interaction procedures. The performance of the generalization results could be compared with the quality of corresponding algorithmic or rule-based solutions to estimate the potential performance increase. Lastly, the power of the proposed approach as a knowledge engineering technique could be assessed. -from Author