I’ve long maintained that I write the Twelve Mile Circle primarily for myself although I’m glad other people seem to enjoy coming along for the ride. Case in point, why else would I devote five separate articles to my recent Dust Bowl Experience when I know that 12MC readers prefer geography contests and the like? Nonetheless I’m afraid that today I’m going to sound like I’m ranting just a little bit and there’s no way around it. I’ll try to get through it quickly and then reward you for bearing with me.
I’m displeased at the moment with reddit, particularly the content model used for its MapPorn subreddit. I have no disagreement with its intent to make a wide audience aware of great maps. That’s a worthy goal. It’s their means of sharing information that frosts me. It links to original images, to maps created outside of reddit, but not to the underlying articles where they appear.
That means content creators, the very people who worked hard to produce these maps, are on the receiving end of hundreds or thousands of hits on the image they created without receiving a single new visitor to the website itself. Many other subreddits link directly to website articles — no complaints there and in fact a big "thank you" because I’ve benefited from that in the past — so my issue is only with the subreddits that lift images without giving something back to the people who created them. It’s frustrating to see an image that one has created resonate very broadly with a large audience and have no way to attract the audience to one’s larger body of work.
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Here’s the Little Trouble Maker
Exhibit A: the 12MC article on Alternate Rhode Islands that I posted in May 2012. It generated about an average amount of attention at the time and resulted in a handful of comments. Someone posted the image on the MapPorn subreddit a couple of months ago where it created a large amount of interest and 225 comments as of this morning. It would have been nice if the original article I wrote had attracted a similar level of attention. I did the work. Reddit got the benefit.
Then it spread to several other subreddits. I changed the map to deliver a little passive-aggressive notation after I watched the first few thousand hits suck away my website bandwidth, "Dear reddit: if you’re gonna keep using this image, could you at least visit the website?" Perhaps one person noticed that addition and threw me a bone because I did get a comment on the article recently. Thank you, random visitor.
The final straw happened when people started creating derivative works with the same underlying theme, expanding the analysis to apply to other small states. I noticed one such example was created for Connecticut. Independently, Steve over at the ever-wonderful Connecticut Museum Quest sent a copy to me, noting that he’d pulled it from a Connecticut radio station website. The idea was spreading and once again 12MC got bupkis.
It’s time for me to play North Korea to reddit’s USA, by acting all crazy and belligerent and sucking the fun from their thread. Before anyone can create further derivative works, I hereby present the map of ALL U.S. counties larger than ANY U.S. state.
You’ll want to open this in another tab to see it at normal size and in its original glory.
That second source created a minor change from my earlier version that I’d pulled from the Rhode Island Office of the Secretary of State. One would think that two official government sources would agree, but they did not. Rhode Island said it had 1,214 square miles (including water) while the U.S. said it had 1,231. I went with the U.S. figures this time because I wanted a consistent source across all states. Several counties dropped from the earlier list as a result (Mobile, AL; Lycoming, PA; Costilla, CO; Starr, TX, Brown, NE; Atascosa, TX; Mineral, MT; Slope, NC). I adjusted the map accordingly.
Next, I took the states by size and plotted them on a spreadsheet to compare to county sizes. I posted it in a shared Google Doc if you’d care to take a look. It’s "view only" so don’t worry about breaking it. The document will be fine.
I used those data to put counties into distinct classes. For example:
- Rhode Island-class counties remained in the familiar red color. Those were counties larger than Rohode Island, but only Rhode Island. This was the most common category
- Delaware-class counties became a grayish-blue. Those were counties larger than Rhode Island or Delaware. They were also quite common.
- Connecticut-class counties began with what I guess is sort-of a tangerine color. Those were counties larger than Rhode Island, Delaware or Connecticut.
- And so on…
One can also interpret this going in the opposite direction. Want a map of counties larger than Rhode Island? Every colored county qualifies. A map of counties larger than Delaware? Remove the red counties. Larger than Connecticut? Remove the red and grayish-blue counties.
California’s San Bernardino County (the largest in the Lower 48) was rendered in dark blue which made it larger than Rhode Island, Delaware, Connecticut, Hawaii, New Jersey, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Vermont or Maryland. That’s impressive although still somewhat reasonable. Contrast that with Alaska’s Yukon-Koyukuk Census Area which is larger than all but four states: Montana, California, Texas and Alaska itself.
I might as well elaborate on Alaska since I know I’ll get comments otherwise if I try to duck the issue. I do realize that Census Areas in Alaska are artificial constructs intended to deal with the uniqueness of the Unorganized Borough. If I were to look at the Unorganized Borough in totality then it would be larger than 49 states. By the way, the largest organized borough, North Slope Borough, is larger than "only" 39 states.
There are plenty of fun anomalies buried in these data too. I love that Hawaii includes a Delaware-class county due to the overwhelming influence of the "Big Island" even though it’s the fourth smallest state. Also, Maine has multiple Rhode Island-class and Delaware-class counties, plus a Hawaii-class county even though it’s the twelfth smallest state.
Take that MapPorn subreddit!