I’ve had a long-term love affair with maps. But it goes beyond that.
If I could sum up what makes me truly happy in a single phrase, it would be this: the pursuit of knowledge. Unless I’m challenging my mind or expanding my horizons, I feel like I’m wasting time.
I find myself continually attracted to products and services that offer a sense of exploration. I have been in love with maps since a very early age, and an atlas is an essential for my desk. (I also spend a lot of time poking my head in various nooks and crannies around whichever city I happen to find myself in, but that’s a different story for another day.)
So when I find new ways of exploring data I feel strangely compelled, and spend lot of time just clicking around and seeing what there is to see. Here are a couple of my recent favorites.
You’ve probably heard of Wikipedia by now. If not, the idea is an Encyclopaedia Galactica that anyone can edit. The combined knowledge of the human race in one place, cross-referenced and hyperlinked; it’s a frighteningly comprehensive resource that recently passed one million articles.
The cross-linking is what makes Wikipedia work. When a link or a search lands me on a page there, I often get sucked into clicking around, and in a throwback to the early days of the web, I find I’m actually surfing the content. It’s been a long time since I’ve done that willingly. Also a time-sucker is clicking the ‘Random Page’ link in the left-side navigation a few times to find a starting point, then surfing from there.
Although you’d think Wikipedia is ripe for abuse due to the collaborative nature, there are measures in place that allow for detection and correction of abuse. You can view the entire history of an article, compare versions, and if necessary roll back to earlier variations. While it may not be the only source to consult on any given subject, it sure isn’t bad as a source.
Oh, the beauty of open source. Celestia is a cross-platform simulation of the known universe, and trust me when I say that if you download it (and figure out the controls), you will waste hours with it.
Perhaps I’m just pre-disposed to the subject matter, but even still… the ability to do a solar-system fly-by and observe for yourself the vast scale of this tiny little corner of space we inhabit is mind-blowing. Knowing the numbers simply isn’t enough, until you’re able to proportionately see exactly how large those numbers are.
And on the human scale, the Skyscraper Page is an architectural smorgasbord of a site. With to-scale diagrams of most of the world’s tallest buildings, the breakdown of information available is impressive.
Start by selecting a city from the global list, then from the city page selecting an information view. A list (in order of height) is on the main city page, but those are just numbers. Hit the Buildings Diagram in the left sidebar to give those numbers a sense of perspective. Then go back and hit the Image Gallery to make those diagrams real with photographs.
A long-time favourite, IMDb is similar to Wikipedia, though far more focused and not a collaborative effort. Explore the world of Hollywood, cross-referenced and as detailed as you could possibly want.
Basically IMDb for music, Allmusic.com has everything you could possibly want to know about an artist, their releases, who they played with and more. Lyrics have yet to find their way on the site, but I’d imagine that to be a monumental undertaking.