For nearly as long as there have been maps, mapmakers have ornamented them. Sometimes these ornaments took the form of dragons or beasts and reflected that parts of the map were unknown. Sometimes they looked like made-up towns, meant to catch other cartographers stealing their work. No matter their form, these filigrees and fictions reflected that the maps didn’t portray immutable truth: They were imperfect tools crafted by imperfect human beings.
They were made.
A somewhat different artifact of craftsmanship caught my eye earlier today—an especially digital one. Look up the Washington Monument in Google Maps, and the software will show you the obelisk’s shadow. The shadow even moves to reflect the position of the sun.
At nearly 5 p.m. here in D.C., according to Google Maps, the shadow will point east, toward the Capitol Building. The blogger Jason Kottke and a number of Twitter users collected other orientations:
Ken Norton, a partner in Google Ventures, reports that the digital shadow has reflected the real shadow’s position for about three years.
It’s a fun accent, possible only with the kind of live, dynamic map that Google deploys. (The digital-ness of Google’s maps allows the company to edit its own maps at will, to add previously unknown features or to erase previously known ones.)