Falsehoods programmers believe about maps

Ok, I’m probably not the first one to write a post about falsehoods programmers believe about maps, but I still remember reading “Falsehoods programmers believe about names” and “Falsehoods programmers believe about time“, and thinking “there should be a post like that about maps”. So, go ahead, read those two posts to get to know the style of a post like this and then read on here.

  1. All coordinates are in “Latitude/Longitude” (Why is this false?)
  2. If you know the “Latitude/Longitude” you can be certain of exactly where you are
  3. “Spatial is special”
  4. The earth is round (Why is this false?)
  5. The earth is ellipsoidal (Why is this false?)
  6. The GPS-satellites know where I am
  7. There is a single, right, map projection
  8. Scale numbers works on a screen (Why is this false?)
  9. There are no good alternatives to Google Maps
  10. Web Mercator works for all purposes
  11. The shortest path between two points is a straight line
  12. All programmers agree on the ordering of latitude and longitude pairs
  13. Given a paper map I can always digitize and georeference it
  14. My background map will be better if I cache it, always!
  15. GIS software is always expensive
  16. The whole world is mapped, thouroughly
  17. Looking up a street address and get it’s position is easy
  18. Offline maps is as easy as Goole Maps

That’s what I’ve come up with this far, I might fill in something here when I think about it. Comments? Additions? Any errors? Want citations? Well, the comment section is open, so go ahead!

6 thoughts on “Falsehoods programmers believe about maps

  1. Lars Marius Garshol

    This is good stuff, and some of it new to me, but I think it would be a lot more useful if there were explanations for why these are falsehoods. The same goes for those two posts you linked to.

    Of course, such a post would also be a lot more work. 🙂

  2. Atle Post author


    I agree with you on the explainations, on all points there (especially the last one I guess). But, maybe the “debunking” part could be material for some more blog posts, any of the myths that needs more explaination than the others?

  3. Bill Morris

    I’m afraid I don’t know any programmers (who work with maps) who believe more than one or two of these. While entertaining, this list has the look of the same straw man argument that popped up here a little while ago. Can we at least have some anecdotes about where these come from?

  4. Atle Post author

    Bill: First of all; this is in no way meant as a “I know better than everyone else, listen to the expert here”. And, second: I’m rather sure that programmers that work with maps know these things (I’m myself a programmer who works with maps).

    I haven’t read the blog post you are referring to, but I sure will. I am convinced that there are a lot of programmers who are great at maps (and I’m sure a lot of them will be in Portland next week).

    But, what I also know is that there are a lot of programmers who have added 50 lines of javascript and the Google Maps API to their website and claim they work with maps. I think a lot of the falsehoods I refer to here apply to some of them.

    So: bottom line: this is not a blog post saying that programmers shouldn’t work with maps, but a lighthearted way to point out some progammers perhaps have a rather shallow understanding of maps. Some of these falsehoods originate from people I’ve spoken to, some from places like stackexchange/stackoverflow and some are things I suspect that some programmers think (so: no scientific research base here).

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