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Lost in Cyberspace

National Geographic map program blends past, 'Net

This article was originally published on December 14, 1999 by SignOn San Diego and Copley News Service.

Many of us had the large stacks of yellow magazines in the attic or library while growing up. And if our family didn't get National Geographic, then one of our neighbors did.

One of the things that's always made National Geographic such a treasure is its large, fold-out wall maps. Whether showing ancient civilizations, tracing modern development or outlining contemporary political divisions, the National Geographic maps are always something to look forward to.

National Geographic MapsA companion volume to the 31-CD collection of National Geographic magazine is the new, smaller eight-disc National Geographic Maps. Whereas the magazine collection contains all the articles, photographs and page maps, the new set is only the large fold-out maps that have come tucked into the magazine for the past 110 years – maps that aren't included in the other set. And at only $49.99, the map set is less than half the price of the complete magazine collection.

The nonprofit National Geographic Society has done both sets up right, partnering with Broderbund, a company that knows a little something about putting out high-end software.

The map collection not only takes the incredible collection of maps from the magazine's history, but it organizes them into a database so you can do searches for specific locations or themes. There are also what are called "tours," which are short animated videos focusing on a single part of history.

But what really sets this program apart is the way it couples the collection on the discs to resources on National Geographic's Web site. From the tool bar of the program, you can launch your Web browser (the installation process helps you set that up quite easily) and go directly to National Geographic's Map Machine.

The Map Machine is an incredible site all its own. You can search maps organized by politics, geography or climate, with tons of subcategories in each. And when you've finally got the map you want, you have the option of getting a high-resolution printable version. There are also atlas entries for each country and U.S. state (plus Canadian provinces), with flags, population, per capita earnings, etc.

It's just about perfect for homework assignments, and you don't even have to own the program to access the Web site. It seems to be financed through the modest advertisements on each page.