Digital ribbon maps

Published in notes.

Ribbon maps are an old, old idea.

Rather than carry a whole map or a whole atlas on your journey, you just take a map that shows you the route you’re going to take. Ribbon maps were literally long ribbons of paper wrapped around a spool. You could keep the spool in your pocket and unroll it a little more, probably every time you reached a junction, to check which turning to take.

Ages ago I found myself wondering: could digital ribbon maps be a thing?

Instead of showing your route on an actual entire map, your mapping app could spit out a simple page of images and HTML, with the road you need to take divided into straight chunks, and with appropriate landmarks and locations noted alongside.

Here’s a very scratchy mockup made of screenshots from my computer’s Maps app. This shows the main driving route through Bradford on Avon, from north-south. North is at the top of the map, south is at the bottom.

Here’s an image of exactly the same route, marked on a normal map without any ribbons:

As you can see, it’s very zig-zaggy, so the ribbon map is a simplification of sorts.

That’s about as far as my brain has got with that thought.