Implications of Web Mercator and its Use in Online Mapping

Cartographica: The International Journal for Geographic Information and Geovisualization, 49(2), 85–101.

Online interactive maps have become a popular means of communicating with spatial data. In most online mapping systems, Web Mercator has become the dominant projection. While the Mercator projection has a long history of discussion about its inappropriateness for general-purpose mapping, particularly at the global scale, and seems to have been virtually phased out for general-purpose global-scale print maps, it has seen a resurgence in popularity in Web Mercator form. This article theorizes on how Web Mercator came to be widely used for online maps and what this might mean in terms of data display, technical aspects of map generation and distribution, design, and cognition of spatial patterns. The authors emphasize details of where the projection excels and where it does not, as well as some of its advantages and disadvantages for cartographic communication, and conclude with some research directions that may help to develop better solutions to the problem of projections for general-purpose, multi-scale Web mapping.


Michael P. Finn, E. Lynn Usery, Kristina H. Yamamoto

Tableau author(s)

Sarah Battersby