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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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”.
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.
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.
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.
A Map of the Online World in Incredible Detail
This unique map provides an in-depth snapshot of the state of the world wide web, highlighting the most popular websites on the internet.
A Map of the Online World in Incredible Detail
The internet is intangible, and because you can’t see it, it can be hard to comprehend its sheer vastness. As well, it’s difficult to gauge the relative size of different web properties. However, this map of the internet by Halcyon Maps offers a unique solution to these problems.
Inspired by the look and design of historical maps, this graphic provides a snapshot of the current state of the World Wide Web, as of April 2021. Let’s take a closer look!
But First, Methodology
Before diving into an analysis, it’s worth touching on the methodology behind this graphic’s design.
This map highlights thousands of the world’s most popular websites by visualizing them as “countries.” These “countries” are organized into clusters that are grouped by their content type (whether it’s a news website, search engine, e-commerce platform, etc).
Editor’s fun fact: Can you spot Visual Capitalist? We’re right in between TechCrunch and The Guardian above.
The colored borders represent a website’s logo or user interface. In terms of scale, each website’s territory size is based on its average Alexa web traffic ranking. The data is a yearly average, measured from January 2020 to January 2021.
Along the borders of the map, you can find additional information, from ranked lists of social media consumption to a mini-map of average download speeds across the globe.
According to the designer Martin Vargic, this map took about a year to complete.
Top 50 Most Popular Websites
Google and YouTube take up a lot of space, which is unsurprising—they’re the two highest-ranked websites on the list:
|28||Google.com.hk||🇭🇰 Hong Kong|
|36||Naver.com||🇰🇷 South Korea|
Google has held the title as the internet’s most popular website since 2010. While Google’s popularity is well understood, the company’s dominance might be even more widespread than you’d think—across all Google-owned platforms (including YouTube) the company accounts for 90% of all internet searches.
The third highest ranked website is Tmall. For those who don’t know, Tmall is a Chinese e-commerce platform, owned by Alibaba Group. It focuses on Business-to-Consumer (B2C) transactions, and has established itself as the most popular e-commerce website in China—in Q1 2021, Tmall accounted for more than 50% of China’s B2C online transactions.
A High Level Look
When it comes to the top 50 websites overall, a majority are either social networking platforms, search engines, or online marketplaces—while this may not come as a surprise, it’s still powerful to see visualized. For instance, even a huge, well-known website like the New York Times is just a tiny country on this map.
And of course, a map of the internet isn’t complete without mention of the dark web.
While it’s challenging to determine its true size, research indicates that the dark web accounts for a large portion of the internet’s true size. And apparently, it’s growing steadily, with the help of anonymous cryptocurrencies like Bitcoin.
For the most part, it’s believed that the dark web is used for unsavory reasons—however, it’s not all bad. Because of its anonymous nature, it can be used as a safe space for whistleblowing or activism.
Overall, this map, and the internet as a whole, has many places for us to explore. When you dive in, what “countries” catch your eye?
Timeline: The World’s Biggest Passenger Ships from 1831-Present
This giant infographic explores the biggest passenger ships on the open seas, over a period of almost 200 years.
Breaking Records: The Biggest Passenger Ships since 1831
The Titanic lives large in our minds, but it’s probably not surprising that the world record for biggest passenger ship has been broken many times since its era. In fact, today’s largest passenger ship can now hold over 6,000 people—more than double the Titanic’s capacity.
This graphic by HMY Yachts looks at which vessels held the title of the world’s largest passenger ship over time, and how these vessels have evolved since the early 19th century.
Different Types of Passenger Ships
Before diving into the ranking, it’s worth explaining what constitutes a passenger ship.
Passenger ships are vessels whose main purpose is to transport people rather than goods. In modern times, there are three types of passenger ships:
- Cruise ships: Used for vacationing, with a priority on amenities and luxury
- Ferries: Typically used for shorter day trips, or overnight transport
- Ocean liners: The traditional mode of maritime transport, with a priority on speed
Traditional ocean liners are becoming obsolete, largely because of advancements in other modes of transportation such as rail, automobile, and air travel. In other words, the main priority for passenger ships has changed over the years, shifting from transportation to recreation.
Now, luxury is the central focus, meaning extravagance is part of the whole cruise ship experience. For example, the Navigator of the Seas (which was the largest passenger ship from 2002-2003) has $8.5 million worth of artwork displayed throughout the ship.
A Full Breakdown: Biggest Passenger Ships By Tonnage
Now that we’ve touched on the definition of a passenger ship and how they’ve evolved over the years, let’s take a look at some of the largest passenger ships in history.
The first vessel on the list is the SS Royal William. Built in Eastern Canada in the early 1800s, this ship was originally built for domestic travel within Canada.
In addition to being the largest passenger ship of its time, it’s often credited as being the first ship to travel across the Atlantic Ocean almost fully by steam engine. However, some sources claim the Dutch-owned vessel Curaçao completed a steam-powered journey in 1827—six years before the SS Royal William.
In 1837, The SS Royal William was dethroned by the SS Great Western, only to change hands dozens of times before 1912, when the Titanic entered the scene.
|SS Royal William||1831 – 1837||1,370 GRT||155 passengers|
|SS Great Western||1837 – 1839||1,340 GRT||128 passengers, 20 servants, 60 crew|
|SS British Queen||1839 – 1840||1,850 GRT||207 passengers|
|SS President||1840 – 1841||2,366 GRT||110 passengers, 44 servants|
|SS British Queen||1841 – 1843||1,850 GRT||207 passengers|
|SS Great Britain||1843 – 1853||3,270 GRT||360 passengers, 120 crew|
|SS Atrato||1853 – 1858||3,466 GRT||762+ passengers|
|SS Great Eastern||1858 – 1888||18,915 GRT||4,000 passengers, 418 crew|
|SS City of New York||1888 – 1893||10,499 GRT||1,740 passengers, 362 crew|
|RMS Campania and RMS Lucania||1893 – 1897||12,950 GRT||2,000 passengers, 424 crew|
|SS Kaiser Wilhelm der Grosse||1897 – 1899||14,349 GRT||1,506 passengers, 488 crew|
|RMS Oceanic||1899 – 1901||17,272 GRT||1,710 passengers, 349 crew|
|RMS Celtic||1901 – 1903||20,904 GRT||2,857 passengers|
|RMS Cedric||1903 – 1904||21,035 GRT||1,223 passengers, 486 crew|
|RMS Baltic||1904 – 1906||23,876 GRT||2,875 passengers|
|SS Kaiserin Auguste Victoria||1906 – 1907||24,581 GRT||2,466 passengers|
|RMS Lusitania||1907||31,550 GRT||2,198 passengers, 850 crew|
|RMS Mauretania||1907 – 1911||31,938 GRT||2,165 passengers, 802 crew|
|RMS Olympic||1911 – 1912||45,324 GRT||2,435 passengers, 950 crew|
|RMS Titanic||1912||46,328 GRT||2,435 passengers, 892 crew|
|SS Imperator||1913 – 1914||52,117 GRT||4,234 passengers, 1,180 crew|
|SS Vaterland||1914 – 1922||54,282 GRT||1,165 passengers|
|RMS Majestic||1922 – 1935||56,551 GRT||2,145 passengers|
|SS Normandie||1935 – 1936||79,280 GRT||1,972 passengers, 1,345 crew|
|RMS Queen Mary||1936||80,774 GRT||2,139 passengers, 1,101 crew|
|SS Normandie||1936 – 1946||83,404 GRT||1,972 passengers, 1,345 crew|
|RMS Queen Elizabeth||1946 – 1972||83,673 GRT||2,283 passengers, 1000+ crew|
|SS France and SS Norway (1962-1980)||1972 – 1987||66,343 GRT||2,044 passengers, 1,253 crew|
|MS Sovereign of the Seas||1987 – 1990||73,529 GT||2,850 passengers|
|SS Norway||1990 – 1995||76,049 GT||2,565 passengers, 875 crew|
|Sun Princess||1995 – 1996||77,499 GT||2,010 passengers, 924 crew|
|Carnival Destiny||1996 – 1998||101,353 GT||2,642 passengers, 1,150 crew|
|Grand Princess||1998 – 1999||109,000 GT||2,590 passengers, 1,110 crew|
|Voyager of the Seas||1999 – 2000||137,276 GT||3,138 passengers, 1,181 crew|
|Explorer of the Seas||2000 – 2002||137,308 GT||3,114 passengers, 1,180 crew|
|Navigator of the Seas||2002 – 2003||139,999 GT||4,000 passengers, 1,200 crew|
|RMS Queen Mary 2||2003 – 2006||148,528 GT||2,640 passengers, 1,256 crew|
|MS Freedom of the Seas||2006 – 2007||154,407 GT||4,515 passengers, 1,300 crew|
|Liberty of the Seas||2007 – 2009||155,889 GT||4,960 passengers, 1,300 crew|
|Oasis of the Seas||2009 – 2016||225,282 GT||6,780 passengers, 2,165 crew|
|Harmony of the Seas||2016 – 2018||226,963 GT||6,780 passengers, 2,300 crew|
|Symphony of the Seas||2018 – present||228,081 GT||6,680 passengers, 2,200 crew|
The Titanic was one of three ships in the Olympic-class line. Of the three, two of them sank—the Titanic in 1912, and the HMHS Britannic in 1916, during World War I. Some historians believe these ships sank as a result of their faulty bulkhead design.
Fast forward to today, and the Symphony of the Seas is now the world’s largest passenger ship. While it boasts 228,081 in gross tonnage, it uses 25% less fuel than its sister ships (which are slightly smaller).
COVID-19’s Impact on Cruise Ships
2020 was a tough year for the cruise ship industry, as travel restrictions and onboard outbreaks halted the $150 billion industry. As a result, some operations were forced to downsize—for instance, the notable cruise operation Carnival removed 13 ships from its fleet in July 2020.
That being said, restrictions are slowly beginning to loosen, and industry experts remain hopeful that things will look different in 2021 as more people begin to come back on board.
“[There] is quite a bit of pent-up demand and we’re already seeing strong interest in 2021 and 2022 across the board, with Europe, the Mediterranean, and Alaska all seeing significant interest next year.”
-Josh Leibowitz, president of luxury cruise line Seabourn
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