Cartographic Maps have been important in Switzerland for ages and the Swiss are proud of their cartographic tradition. Just think of the famous Dufour map or the relief shading techniques developed by Xavier Imfeld – both works from the 19th century. There even exists Cartographica Helvetica, a journal dedicated to the history of cartography. If you ever had the opportunity to hold a printed map of the Swiss alps in her hands was certainly impressed about the high quality of design and versatility.
Yet, the digital revolution has profoundly transformed the way how maps are produced and consumed. Today, the use of digital maps via Google Maps, geo.admin.ch or OpenStreetMap is ubiquitous. But traditional map sheets are still in use: for example, a Swisstopo map sheet can be found in more than a few backpacks of ambitious hikers.
The problem with paper maps has always been that the arrangement of the sheets is fixed. To overcome this inflexibility, Swisstopo has just recently adjusted their traditional map sheet production thanks to the digitalization and automation of their process: With «mySwissMap», you can now order your custom topographic or aerial map with your own extent on a high quality sheet of waterproof paper.
Well, you may say, this is nothing special! Printing custom maps has always been around, it is actually part of every professional GIS platform (commercial or open-source). True, but this is generally not possible for the average person and it is great to see how technology can broaden access and improve the cartographic experience of the public – even for traditional maps.
Inspired by «mySwissMap», I tweeted the idea of printing maps on a postcard and use one of the many postcard services on the internet. This has been on my mind for a while, for example as a means to send directions to my house via postcard to future visitors.
One thing lead to another and a I filed an enhancement request on Swisstopo’s GitHub repository to include the A6 paper format (the standard for postcards) in the printing service of geo.admin.ch. And, as Pasquale said it fittingly: «Detto fatto»! Less than 24 hours later, Marc and Dave from Swisstopo published a pull-request, which generates a first version of the proposed layout.
Now, I can create a map with directions to my home or work and send it as a physical postcard within minutes, as outlined in my tweet:
And, bonus point: When you are on your way to my place, you can checkout the directions on your mobile, too, by using the QR-code on the postcard! To me, this whole story is a nice example of how printed maps can be a valuable part of our daily life in some unexpected ways.
Update 16.06.2020: the new layout is now production:
But, taking a step back, there might be another lesson to learn: Leveraging the potential of digitalization doesn’t just mean to take advantage of technology – it also needs the creativity of people who have the ability (resources and means) to form and coordinate ad hoc teams online and create additional value to services, in this case literally within hours! Thanks again to everyone in the original Twitter discussion and especially to Dave and Marc for implementing the idea as a minimum viable product!