Who are the maps for?

Posted in Maps, Random thoughts at 11:28 pm by ducky

As my maps approach something reasonable for public distribution, I’ve been talking to more people about them. People are starting to ask me, “Who do you think will use them? What do you think they will use them for?”

I’m not quite sure how to answer that. I imagine marketing people will be interested, though I have to believe that they already have this information.

Would researchers use it? Maybe for preliminary investigation, but I would hope they’d use ArcGIS for anything they want to publish. While the maps “look right” to me for most places I know about, there are a few places that don’t look right to me. ArcGIS is fundamentally better — they have many many more resources than I do to get things right.

The “value add” for my maps is not “better”, but “cheaper” and “more accessible”. Twelve-year old Katie isn’t going to buy a copy of ArcGIS for her social studies class, but maybe she could use my maps for a report on the racial demographics of Texas. The Southern Poverty Law Center probably isn’t going to buy ArcGIS, but might go create a list of links to prisons to help people understand how African-Americans are hugely overrepresented in U.S. jails. Maybe Frieda and Joe will look at it to figure out what neighborhoods in Chicago they’d like to live in.

But my hunch is that most of the “use” won’t be obviously useful. I have certainly spent an awful lot of time just wandering around in the maps, exploring the demographics of my native country. Was this productive?

My maps aren’t very good for giving me answers, but they have given me lots of questions. Why are there so few rural blacks in Florida, when there are so many just across the border in Georgia? Why are there so few Latinos in East Texas compared to West Texas? Why is the median age so low on so many Native reservations? Why are there so many vacant housing units in northern Michigan and Minnesota?

However, I feel like these are good questions to have. Maybe I can’t articulate why I feel like a richer person for having explored U.S. demographics, but I absolutely do.

And if Katie, and Frieda, and Joe, and the Southern Poverty Law Center also feel enriched, then I will feel like I have succeeded.

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