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Monday, August 31, 2015

The State of the U.S. Cartography Business

Map of large underwater features. (1995, NOAA)
When I read the title The next hot job: cartographer and saw a picture of three people from CartoDB, I expected to read an article about the company. Why? Because the article appeared in Crain's New York Business! It's one of two articles about the growth (re-growth?) of geography and cartography as disciplines and  businesses in 2015.

Hot Jobs

The "hot job" article suggests that as the number of geography departments declined and the number of undergraduate geography graduates declined during the 1970s and 1980s, cartographers had to come from other disciplines. Alyssa Wright, now at Mapzen, but well known for her work at Boundless, studied a host of things are not cartography. In the last twenty years 15 colleges have added geography departments. The article notes the demise of geography at Harvard, and its re-birth.

What the article doesn't note is the new focus on cartography and visualization. The number and pedigree of traditional media that are taking on geographic topics and maps is impressive: Wired, The Atlantic and the New York Times are leading the way. I like to think they are prompted by the efforts from Floating Sheep and other visualization efforts.

And, in academia I think Anthony Robinson's MapMOOC awoke a new interest in not just maps, but good maps. The announcement of the New Maps Plus graduate program at the University of Kentucky (which has overlap with Floating Sheep) has a cartographic leaning and the just announced Online Professional Master’s in GIS/Cartography at UW-Madison suggest to me that cartography is indeed hot.

Demand for Digital Mapmakers

The companion article, Demand and opportunities soar for digital mapmakers, digs a bit deeper. It does introduce CartoDB, and describes Chris Whong, officially a sales engineer at the company, as he describes himself, as a mapmaker. The article shares a comScore stat: the time people spend online looking at maps has increase by more than 50% in just the past two years. (I looked for the data to determine if that's 2 minutes to 3 minutes or 20 minutes to 30 minutes, but alas had no luck.) The article describes the sale of HERE this way:
In early August, a Nokia division that makes car-dashboard maps was sold to a group of German automakers for nearly $3 billion.
The article then goes on to illustrate how New York City's open data has powered several important maps. Ironically, Whong's map of New York taxi data that went viral and produced quite a bit of demand, is featured at the end of the article. There's a note thanking Heroku (an app development company) and Mapbox for sponsoring resources to support keeping the project map online.