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On the problem of placing names in a geographic map
Freeman H., Ahn J. International Journal of Pattern Recognition and Artificial Intelligence1 (1):121-140,1987.Type:Article
Date Reviewed: Jun 1 1988

This research paper describes AUTONAP, a rule-based system for the automated placement of feature labels on a map; it is a concise summary of the objectives and procedures described more fully in Ahn’s 1984 doctoral dissertation [1]. The paper provides both a useful summary of earlier attempts to automate label placement on maps and an insightful description of the problem.

A few key papers in the literature on cartographic design have suggested a number of rules for the aesthetic placement of type; the principal requirements are the absence of overlap and an unambiguous association between feature and label. Separate rules guide the placement of labels naming point, line, and area features. An area label, for example, represents the shape and extent of an area feature as described by a smooth arc fitted to the area skeleton, which is based in turn upon a smoothed polygon and generalized further to avoid narrow necks or protrusions.

The paper is well illustrated with diagrams explaining key spatial concepts and with example maps demonstrating the efficacy of the system. The principal example--a small-scale map of states, cities, and principal rivers in the western half of the United States--would seem to support the authors’ assertion that area features are the most demanding and linear features the least demanding. Yet an attempt to label a large-scale city street map would suggest the opposite. Nonetheless, the system described is the most complete and sophisticated attempt yet published to solve the name-placement problem, a thorny bottleneck in the computer generation of cartographic displays. The basic approach is sound, but further refinements are needed for dealing with color symbols and a wider variety of scales, features, and applications.

Reviewer:  Mark Monmonier Review #: CR112177
1) Ahn, J.Automatic map name placement system. PhD thesis, Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, Troy, NY, May 1984.
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Cartography (I.2.1 ... )
Earth And Atmospheric Sciences (J.2 ... )
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