The Quest for Map Perfection

Maps have always been an imperfect representation of the real world. Today’s online mapping applications, with the advent of crowd sourced data updates and detailed aerial imagery views, are pretty great representations of our world, but still – they are not perfect. Business mapping software is still far from perfect.

Maps of any sort require map projections to accommodate the compression of real world objects onto flat and limited area surfaces. And map projections always introduce compromises in map accuracy – like making Africa appear too small when compared to Europe, a common complaint for many world map viewers.

Map data address accuracy is by its very nature less than perfect due to the fact that addresses change. New streets get added on a regular basis. Street names get changed. Old street addresses get reconfigured to accommodate new postal rules or local emergency management schemes. Bridges get closed, roads get discontinued, and two-way streets can be turned into one-ways at the whim of a town manager. All of these changes impact map accuracy. What was accurate on Tuesday could be dead wrong on Friday.

Online or desktop mapping software applications can fall far short of the business map user’s expectation of a relatively perfect map. In addition to data accuracy the user has to come to terms with usability issues. Is the business mapping software easy-to-use? Does it efficiently navigate to my area of interest? Is there enough map detail to provide answers to my map related questions? Or is there too much detail; so much detail that I can’t get answers to my questions?

A map maker must consider usability when they decide how labeling of streets, cities, zip codes and counties will occur. At what zoom level should zip code labels appear? At what zoom level should small rivers and streams show? Should I call this road U.S. Route 1 or The Portland Road or both? Mapping software developers must decide how these details will present and how much control over map presentation details the user will get.

Any map user will want to know that the applications they test address the business challenges they seek to resolve through business mapping. Can the tool do more than simply visualize customers on a map? Does it provide demographic maps, sales territory mapping or competitive analysis? A realtor may want to view property lines, a sales person may want to see zip codes, while a banker might prefer to see Census tracts.

Business Mapping Software
The challenge for business mapping software is to present a map view that engages the map user while not intimidating, that provides critical data without overwhelming, that offers additional map related tools without forcing the user to invest too much time and money in post-graduate level professional mapping studies, just to be able to navigate the darn thing. Providing a reasonably compelling and customizable map view is a primary goal for business mapping software companies. The result should be a map with enough information, but not too much information, and with minimal software steps to get there. Your business map should provide just enough user flexibility. It’s a tough balance.

Map Business Online is a business mapping solution that presents users with easy-to-use-tools offering enough map data so that when you’ve added your business data you get compelling and informative results. To date, we’ve focused on providing map administrative layers like zip codes, Census Tracts, MSA’s, and school districts. Map Business Online includes a growing library of demographic data layers including population, income, ethnicity, households, housing and more. These layers are accessible for work in your business map views – exportable for work outside Map Business Online as well.

Subscribing to the most up-to-date world-wide street level map data has been of primary importance to Map Business Online, since the very beginning. This should be sweet relief to former MapPoint customers seeking a MapPoint replacement. To put it nicely, Microsoft MapPoint and Streets & Trips Street map data was stale. The map data had not been made current for many years. And then, of course, they simply shut down both software products. I would have expected much better from Microsoft.

Map Data
Map Business Online street data is compiled by , the world leader in GIS software, from the world’s finest map data providers. Rarely do we find errors within our map data, but if we do these errors are reported and repaired. Google will repair data errors as well. Just make them aware of the issues and wait a little while. Data errors in any map application are, for the most part, repaired pretty quickly.

Demographic data is a marvelous addition to business mapping. These generalized datasets compiled by regular US Census Bureau data surveys provide details about the populace by jurisdiction. Information like this can be critical to strategic business planning, expansion planning, or just retail mapping. Yet Census data has its limits. How current is the data, how detailed is the data, did the Census even ask the right questions?

Map Imperfections Can Impact Business
Imperfections in mapping can have a direct impact on business. Christopher Columbus almost turned back because his maps severely underestimated the distance from Spain, across the Atlantic Ocean to promised lands in the west. His crew was near mutiny when land was finally spotted.

Napoleon relied on accurate and recent mapping as a key component to his military strategy, which often entailed a feint assault to hold an enemy force in place while another force conducted a rapid and concealed march over rough and unknown terrain, surprising the enemy and winning the day. “Napoleon wanted quick, accurate mapping as the army advanced. Part of the staff was made responsible for the army’s map supply, terrain studies and map making. It was accompanied by a mobile printing shop and a small copper-plate press. It could produce hundreds of rough maps in a few hours.” (Source –

Napoleon’s cartographer, how cool would that job be? Pretty cool until you messed up a contour map delaying the main attack-force by a day or more. Really cool unless you failed to note the swamp located between the mountain and the field of battle, resulting in the loss of half the artillery required to subdue the Prussian army. “Préparer la guillotine. C’est un doofus cartographique.”

And that’s why today’s map makers like to keep map errors to a minimum. Most of us are not planning world domination – well perhaps Microsoft and Google are – but we like to keep customers satisfied, informed, and happy with the business mapping software they’ve paid for. Because no matter what your business strategy is, you need to get there before your enemy realizes what you’re doing.

Let a digital map help you learn about your business

Contact: Geoffrey Ives (800) 425-9035, (207) 939-6866

MapPoint users – please consider as your MapPoint Replacement.

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