Week 9: Up the Mighty Mississippi

Discussing the Inuit maps in class last week ignited all sorts of ideas and questions about the forms of maps and why we use them. Including, is every map is simply an extension of the self, radiating outwards, and in the process, locating the individual in the context of that projected space? If so, then all map marks are relational to the map holder: I am here and those points are there, but if am over here, then they are now there. It's a constant conversation. And if (one of) a map's purpose is to navigate one's way through all of the relational data, then is it possible to create an experience that disorients the user? How would that work?

Recently, before this class started, I zoomed into a map of the United States and followed the The Mississippi River along it's entire route (approximately 2,350 miles) using only satellite imagery, no labels. The river's color and width changed all along is winding, northern meander. I tried to identify major cities and the states along the way, but ultimately I lost all sense of context, losing any relation to the starting point and my distance from the headwaters. 

I decided to recreate that event and kept it in mind as I perused all of Mapbox's GL JS features, noting which ones I responded to the most. For this project they were: satellite imagery (of course and also I'm obsessed with the Earth View from Google Earth browser extension) and the various camera view options, specifically flying to a location and centering the map upon each symbol-click. I decided to combine my own markers with this latter functionality so that the user might advance along the river a their own pace.

First, I began building my own GeoJSON dataset using this tool, and then integrated it into my map to test and set the zoom level and pitch just right at the southern-most end of Louisiana, where the mouth of the river meets the Gulf of Mexico. I settled on a zoom level of 12, when the satellite imagery becomes much sharper, more detailed, and clearly stitched together. Pitch introduced perspective, and it took me second to figure out about how far apart to place my markers so that at least one new one would appear in view with each click. As I worked through the process of checking and re-checking my marker placements, it helped me to implement the display of GPS coordinates of my mouse pointer and navigation controls, which I removed for the final version.

So take a journey up the Mighty Mississippi! Like last week's example, I'm offering a type of navigation through imagery. (How might this look with highways? What about animal migration routes?) Depending on your screen's size, it might work best in fullscreen. And in the event that you don't see the next symbol to click, simply scroll yourself up or around the river bit to find it.

Up the Mighty Mississippi