The proliferation of mapping sites on the web provides ample fodder for critique by the map police (cartographic insiders). I usually feel a bit bad whining about the cartographic limitations of such sites. Cartographers have a history of obsessing with rules and such obsession has, arguably, limited creativity and undermined innovations. Bad cop. However, not following the rules does not necessarily produce creative and innovative mapping. I, for one, don’t entirely enjoy being the map police, but will try to at least be a good cop.
Lets look at a site that has been around awhile: The Modern Language Association’s Language Map. The site allows you map language data collected in the 2000 U.S. Census. A nice focused site with interesting data (I use it in my classes and the students enjoy pondering the patterns): here is the default map of the total number of language speakers in each county:
The basic language map allows you to view 33 different languages, mapped by county in the U.S. The total number of people who speak a particular language (above) can be mapped, but mapping totals can be deceptive, as the sizes of the counties vary. Thus a county may have more speakers of a particular language just because it covers more area than a smaller county. To account for these variations in county size, map the data as a percentage (the percent of people in a county that speak a particular language, see below). But you can map totals and there are sometimes good reasons to do so. Just realize the potential limitations of what you are seeing.
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