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Exploring the World Through Mapping

In one form or another, mapping has existed since the beginning of time. People have always had a need to view visual depictions of their landscape. However, it wasn't until approximately 2300 BC that formalized mapping (referred to as Cartography) was evident. The oldest known maps, produced on clay tablets, were found in Babylonia.

Greeks were excellent Cartographers who took mapping into a new era by holding an understanding that the world was round since as early as 350 BC. These ancient maps were drawn by hand making distribution difficult and costly making maps of that day strictly for use by the wealthy and the government.

With the invention of the printing press by German-born Johannes Gutenberg in 1456, maps became more widely used. At this same time, as man set out to explore his world in detail, additional elements were detailed on maps including waterways such as streams, lakes and oceans.

After the voyages of Columbus in the 16th century, whole world maps became more prevalent. It was then that Gerardus Mercator, a native of Belgium, developed a cylindrical projection, which he used to create his world map. To a large degree, Mercator's projection is still used today for map creation.

As more scientific methods were invented and perfected, mapping became increasingly accurate. During the 17th, 18th and 19th centuries, mapping grew to be more valuable to the military, scientists, governments and diplomats. But the greatest innovations in mapping were still on the horizon.

The Geographic Information Systems (GIS) of the 1970's and 1980's greatly expanded our capacity for map-making with the collection of information in a database, proper analysis and immediate display of updated maps. It is this type electronically held information that made online mapping available today via computers.

The Importance of Mapping In Modern Society

It is depicted in movies and on television regularly: the scene of a family going on vacation. Happy smiles quickly turn to frustrated smirks with the unfolding of a map. Comical as is seems now, that was an all to common occurrence in years past. Trying to functionally use a large map (which would rarely fold back into its original, neat shape) was a standard part of any road trip. whether a personal holiday or a business affair.

Because society was becoming more mobile, accurate maps were needed regularly for driving directions and route planning. Road assistance organizations such as AAA first began offering mapping and route planning services to their members. The drawback was time. Members had to place their requests by phone then wait several days (sometimes weeks) to receive a customized map and directions package via mail. While a welcome service at the time, it wasn't long before the general population demanded more.. 

Online and Mobile Mapping Dominate Busy Lives

As travel activities increased and mobile phones, PDAs and laptop computers became more common, there grew an increasing need for electronically available maps. According to Pew Internet, an American Internet research organization, 87% of Internet users who need to find maps or driving directions conduct this activity online. That ranks above communicating with friends and family online, getting weather reports or reading news updates.

This not only applies to personal use, but professional use as well. As business travelers jet from one corner of the globe to another, they are able to quickly obtain maps and/or driving directions to conference centers, client locations, restaurants, hotels and more via any Web-enabled device.

Convenience and Accuracy Are the Primary Attractions

Because of GIS and Global Positioning Systems (GPS) mapping information can be updated globally within a matter of minutes. This makes online mapping highly accurate. A search is performed conveniently by typing the address you wish to depart from and the address at which you wish to arrive. Within seconds, a map is depicted online and step-by-step driving directions are generated that show every turn from point A to point B.

Offline methods of gathering directions (such as calling a person or company then writing directions on paper) are much more time consuming. In addition, the probability of human error is high.

Trip planning is another attraction with online mapping. In addition to merely providing directions, online trip planning sites can also integrate popular attractions and points of interest along the way. Trip planners can alert about possible construction delays, direct travelers to hotels en route and offer weather forecasts for the area(s) of travel.

With the combination of scientific tracking applications with popular Internet mapping sites, the population of the world is better able to explore and conduct its hectic, mobile lifestyle. Although the advancements seen in recent years are great, there is no doubt even greater breakthroughs in mobile mapping lie ahead.

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