Thursday, May 28, 2015

Interactive Strip Maps

Strip maps are very useful when you want to provide a navigation aide from one specific location to another. These maps, which represent a linear route and leave out geographical detail beyond a thin corridor, provide a focused guide to navigation and essentially ignore any geographical knowledge which isn't germane to the journey.

Linear strip maps have a long history. One great example is John Ogilby's 1675 Britannia Atlas (one panel of which is pictured on the right). Ogilby's atlas is presented in a series of scrolls. Each scroll depicts just one journey - from one English town to another destination town.

Strip maps are still very popular today, particularly in transit maps. Most subway trains around the world feature strip maps, representing the subway route as one vertical line from a terminal subway station at one end to the other terminal at the other, with all the subway stations in between depicted in order.

It is a little surprising that we don't see more interactive strip maps on the internet. The browser, with its often linear scrolling method of navigation, seems to lend itself rather well to the strip map format. However interactive strip maps on the web seem to be few and far between.

Propublica has just published a really nicely created strip map, called Killing the Colorado. The map takes the user on a journey down the Colorado river, exploring how man is engineering the death of this once great river.

As you scroll down the page you follow the course of the river overlaid on a satellite view. On your journey down the river information windows open highlighting some of the water projects that are draining water from the river.

The Propublica map owes a lot of its inspiration to the New York Times' A Rogue State Along Two Rivers. A Rogue State Along Two Rivers explores the rise of ISIS by following the paths of the Tigris and Euphrates Rivers. The interactive stitches together a series of aerial images of both rivers to create a strip map which you navigate by scrolling down the page.

Obviously there is a danger with this kind of linear narrative that the medium becomes the whole message. Any ISIS related news stories which occur some distance from the two rivers are not going to make it to the map. However the fact that urban settlements in northern and western Iraq grew-up along the two rivers means that this linear form of narrative works very well in exploring the rise of ISIS in Iraq.

As you scroll down either river overlays explain the situation in towns and cities, often with links to fuller reports in the New York Times. 

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