The Problem With Our Maps
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Misc

The Problem With Our Maps

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Maps shape our understanding of the world – and in an increasingly interconnected and global economy, this geographic knowledge is more important than ever.

The funny thing is, almost everyone actually has a skewed perception of the true size of countries thanks to a cartographic technique called the Mercator projection. Used just about everywhere, from textbooks to Google Maps, the Mercator projection map is the way most of humanity recognizes the position and size of Earth’s continents.

The Mercator Projection

The Mercator Projection Map

In 1569, the great cartographer, Gerardus Mercator, created a revolutionary new map based on a cylindrical projection. The new map was well-suited to nautical navigation since every line on the sphere is a constant course, or loxodrome. In modern times, this is particularly useful since the Earth can be depicted as seamless in online mapping applications.

That said, the true sizes of landmasses become increasingly distorted the further away from the equator they get. Mercator’s map inadvertently pumps up the sizes of Europe and North America. Visually speaking, Canada and Russia appear to take up approximately 25% of the Earth’s landmass, when in reality they occupy a mere 5%. When Antarctica is excluded (as it often is), Canada and Russia’s visual share of landmass jumps to about 40%!

Canada is the second largest country in the world, but not by much. Here is an “at scale” look at Canada, the United States, and Mexico.

Canada, USA, Mexico Size Comparison Map

Africa, South Asia, and South America all appear much smaller in relation to countries further from the equator.

And from a North American perspective, countries such as Australia and Indonesia appear much smaller than they actually are. Comparing the landmasses on the same latitude as Canada helps put sizes into perspective.

Indonesia and Australia distorion

Greenland is the world’s largest island, but looking at its hyper-exaggerated depiction in the map below, you’d be forgiven for wondering why it isn’t a stand-alone continent. In reality, Greenland is about fourteen times smaller than Africa.

Greenland map distortion

Is Bigger Better?

Though Mercator’s map was never intended for use as the default wall map in schools around the world, it has shaped the worldviews of billions of people. Critics of the map – and similar projections – suggest that distortion reinforces a sense of colonialist superiority. As well, the amount of territory a country occupies is often correlated with power and access to natural resources, and map distortions can have the effect of inadvertently diminishing nations closer to the equator.

A prime example of this argument is the “True Size of Africa” graphic, which demonstrated to millions of people just how big the continent is.

true size of africa map graphic

Growing awareness of map distortion is translating into concrete change. Boston public schools, for example, recently switched to the Gall-Peters projection, which more accurately depicts the true size of landmasses.

Gall-Peters map

In our society we unconsciously equate size with importance and even power.

– Salvatore Natoli, Educational Affairs Director, AAG

The Road to Equal-Area Mapping

In 1805, mathematician and astronomer, Karl Mollweide, created a namesake projection that trades accuracy of angles and shape for accuracy of proportion. The Mollweide projection has inspired many other attempts at a user-friendly equal area map.

Mollweide Map Projection

John Paul Goode’s attempt, known as the Goode Homolosine Projection, took this concept a step further by adding interruptions at strategic locations to help reduce the distortion of continents. The resulting shape is sometimes referred to as an “orange peel map”.

Goode Homolosine Map Projection

Another evolution in cartography was the Dymaxion map, invented by Buckminster Fuller and patented in 1946. In this version, the continents are no longer in their familiar positions – however, there is more spacial fidelity than in previous projection methods. We’re able to see the true proportions of Africa, Northern Canada, Antarctica, and other distortion hot spots.

The Dymaxion map wasn’t created for purely practical purposes. Fuller believed that humans would be better equipped to address global challenges if they were given a way to visualize the Earth’s continents in a contiguous manner.

Dymaxion map

The AuthaGraph Map

Using a new map-making method called AuthaGraph, Japanese architect, Hajime Narukawa, may have created the most accurate map of the world yet. AuthaGraph divides the globe into 96 triangles, transfers them to a tetrahedron and unfolds into a rectangle.

The end result? Landmasses and seas are more accurately proportioned than in traditional projections.

Authagraph map

The biggest downfall of the AuthaGraph map is that longitude and latitude lines are no longer a tidy grid. As well, continents on the map are repositioned in a way that will be unfamiliar to a population that is already geographically challenged.

That said, depicting our round world on a flat surface will always come with some trade-offs. As demand grows for a true equal-area map, it will be exciting to see what the next generation of map projections have to offer.

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Markets

Mapping The Biggest Companies By Market Cap in 60 Countries

Tech, finance or energy giant? We mapped the biggest companies by market cap and industry.

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Mapping The Biggest Companies By Market Cap in 60 Countries Share

The Biggest Companies By Market Cap in 60 Countries

Tech giants are increasingly making up more of the Fortune 500, but the world’s biggest companies by market cap aren’t so cut and dry.

Despite accounting for the largest market caps worldwide—with trillion-dollar companies like Apple and contenders including Tencent and Samsung—tech wealth is largely concentrated in just a handful of countries.

So what are the biggest companies in each country? We mapped the largest company by market cap across 60 countries in August 2021 using market data from CompaniesMarketCap, TradingView, and MarketScreener.

What are the Largest Companies in the World?

The world has 60+ stock exchanges, and each one has a top company. We looked at the largest local company, since many of the world’s largest firms trade on multiple exchanges, and converted market cap to USD.

CountryCompanyIndustryMarket Cap (August 2021)
USAAppleTechnology$2.5T
Saudi ArabiaSaudi AramcoEnergy$1.9T
TaiwanTSMCTechnology$594.5B
ChinaTencentTechnology$554.0B
South KoreaSamsungTechnology$429.7B
FranceLVMHConsumer Cyclical$414.3B
SwitzerlandRocheHealthcare$350.0B
NetherlandsASMLTechnology$322.6B
JapanToyotaConsumer Cyclical$251.6B
DenmarkNovo NordiskHealthcare$236.7B
IrelandAccentureTechnology$208.2B
IndiaReliance IndustriesEnergy$198.1B
AustraliaBHP GroupMaterials$191.7B
CanadaShopifyTechnology$185.7B
UKAstrazenecaHealthcare$182.0B
GermanySAPTechnology$174.6B
SingaporeSEATechnology$152.3B
Hong KongAIAFinancials$146.4B
BelgiumAnheuser-Busch InbevConsumer Staples$122.7B
SpainInditexConsumer Cyclical$108.3B
BrazilVALEMaterials$103.9B
RussiaSberbankFinancials$96.7B
ItalyEnelUtilities$93.7B
ArgentinaMercadoLibreConsumer Cyclical$89.5B
SwedenAtlas CopcoIndustrials$84.1B
South AfricaNaspersTechnology$74.1B
NorwayEquinorEnergy$67.9B
UAEEtisalatCommunication$58.7B
MexicoWalmexConsumer Staples$58.1B
IndonesiaBank Cental AsiaFinancials$54.8B
KazakhstanKaspi.kzFinancials$49.8B
QatarQNBFinancials$48.2B
FinlandNordea BankFinancials$48.0B
LuxembourgArcelorMittalMaterials$36.3B
AustriaVerbundUtilities$33.7B
ThailandPTT PCLEnergy$30.1B
ColombiaEcopetrolEnergy$26.7B
MalaysiaMaybankFinancials$23.7B
PhilippinesSM InvestmentsConsumer Cyclical$22.9B
KuwaitKuwait Finance HouseFinancials$21.9B
PortugalEDP GroupUtilities$21.0B
VietnamVinhomesReal Estate$17.1B
IsraelNICETechnology$16.9B
KenyaSafaricomCommunication$16.0B
Czech RepublicÄŒEZ GroupEnergy$15.8B
New ZealandXeroTechnology$15.8B
TurkeyQNB FinansbankFinancials$15.8B
HungaryOTP BankFinancials$15.6B
ChileEnel AmericasUtilities$14.3B
MoroccoMaroc TelecomCommunication$13.6B
PolandPKO Bank PolskiFinancials$12.6B
CyprusPolymetalMaterials$10.0B
NigeriaDangote GroupMaterials$10.0B
BahrainAhli United BankFinancials$8.6B
GreeceOTE GroupCommunication$8.4B
PeruCredicorpFinancials$8.0B
EgyptCommercial International BankFinancials$5.9B
IcelandMarelIndustrials$5.8B
OmanBank MuscatFinancials$4.2B
PanamaCopa HoldingsIndustrials$3.1B

Many are former monopolies or massive conglomerates that have grown in the public space, such as South Africa’s Naspers and India’s Reliance Industries.

Others are local subsidiaries of foreign corporations, including Mexico’s Walmex, Chile’s Enel and Turkey’s QNB Finansbank.

But even more noticeable is the economic discrepancy. Apple and Saudi Aramco are worth trillions of dollars, while the smallest companies we tracked—including Panama’s Copa Group and Oman’s Bank Muscat—are worth less than $5 billion.

Finance and Tech Dominate The Biggest Companies By Market Cap

Across the board, the largest companies were able to accumulate wealth and value.

Some are newer to the top thanks to recent success. Canada’s Shopify has become one of the world’s largest e-commerce providers, and the UK’s AstraZeneca developed one of the world’s COVID-19 vaccines.

But the reality is most companies here are old guards that grew on existing resources, or in the case of banks, accumulated wealth.

IndustryBiggest Companies by Country
Financials16
Technology12
Energy6
Materials5
Communication4
Consumer Cyclical4
Utilities4
Healthcare3
Industrials3
Consumer Staples2
Real Estate1

Banks were the most commonly found at the top of each country’s stock market. Closely behind were oil and gas giants, mining companies, and former state-owned corporations that drove most of a country’s wealth generation.

But as more economies develop and catch up to Western economies (where tech is dominant), newer innovative companies will likely put up a fight for each country’s top company crown.

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Misc

All World Languages in One Visualization

See the world’s major languages broken down by country in this stunning visualization.

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All World Languages, By Native Speakers

View a high resolution version of today’s graphic by clicking here.

Languages provide a window into culture and history. They’re also a unique way to map the world – not through landmasses or geopolitical borders, but through mother tongues.

The Tower of Babel

Today’s infographic from Alberto Lucas Lopez condenses the 7,102 known living languages today into a stunning visualization, with individual colors representing each world region.

Only 23 languages are spoken by at least 50 million native speakers. What’s more, over half the planet speaks at least one of these 23 languages.

Chinese dominates as a macrolanguage, but it’s important to note that it consists of numerous languages. Mandarin, Yue (including Cantonese), Min, Wu, and Hakka cover over 200 individual dialects, which vary further by geographic location.

CountryNative Chinese speakers (millions)
🇨🇳 China1,152.0
🇹🇼 Taiwan21.8
🇭🇰 Hong Kong SAR6.5
🇲🇾 Malaysia5.1
🇸🇬 Singapore1.8
🇹🇭 Thailand1.2
🇻🇳 Vietnam0.9
🇵🇭 Philippines0.7
🇲🇲 Myanmar0.5
🇲🇴 Macau SAR0.5
Other6.0
Total1,197 million

Chinese is one of the most challenging languages for English speakers to pick up, in part due its completely unfamiliar scripts. You’d have to know at least 3,000 characters to be able to read a newspaper, a far cry from memorizing the A-Z alphabet.

Spanglish Takes Over

After Chinese, the languages of Spanish and English sit in second and third place in terms of global popularity. The rapid proliferation of these languages can be traced back to the history of Spanish conquistadors in the Americas, and British colonies around the world.

Animation: Map of Colonization (1492 – 2008):
Colonization Map

Today, Spanish has 399 million native speakers, but these are mostly concentrated in Latin America. English has 335 million native speakers under its belt, with a widespread reach all over the globe.

Two Worlds, One Family

While the visualization makes all the world languages seem disparate, this linguistic family tree shows how they grew from a common root. It also explains how languages can evolve and branch out over time.

Language Tree

Created by Minna Sundberg. Full version.

This linguistic tree also includes many languages that are not on the large visualization of 23 mother tongues. Some of them might be considered endangered or at risk today, such as Catalan or Welsh. However, with globalization, a few interesting linguistic trends are arising.

1. Language revival
Certain enclaves of marginalized languages are being preserved out of pride for the traditional and cultural histories attached.

While Catalan was once banned, its rebirth is a key marker of identity in Barcelona. More than 150 universities teach Catalan worldwide. In the case of Welsh, a mammoth university project plans to make sure it does not die out. Researchers are compiling ten million Welsh words to preserve the past, present, and future of the language.

2. Language forecast
At this point in time, English is the lingua franca – adopted as a common language among speakers with different mother tongues. However, this status might soon be fuzzier as demographic trends continue.

The rise of China is an obvious one to consider. As China continues to increase its economic might and influence, its languages will proliferate as well.

At the same time, 26 African countries are projected to double their current size, many of which speak French as a first language. One study by investment bank Natixis suggests that Africa’s growth may well bring French to the forefront – making it the most-spoken language by 2050.

Could French provide a certain je ne sais quoi that no other world language can quite replace?

This post was first published in 2018. We have since updated it, adding in new content for 2021.

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