Current Issue
This Month's Print Issue

Follow Fast Company

We’ll come to you.

3 minute read

What You Thought You Understood About The World Map Is Wrong

California is bigger than all of the U.K., and other fun facts you can explore with this new interactive map.

 What You Thought You Understood About The World Map Is Wrong

Maps are wonderful inventions, but they can cause their fair share of trouble, from showing you different borders depending on which country you’re viewing from, to sending GPS users into rivers, to making Greenland seem as if it takes up, like, half the world.

This last problem is what the True Size map is designed to fix. When you peel the skin off a globe and lay it out flat to make a map, sizes and shapes get distorted. Various "projections" exist to compensate, but they’re never quite right. And even though we know this when we look at a map and tell ourselves that Greenland and Canada aren’t really that big, it doesn’t help. Which is why True Size lets you grab a country and drag it anywhere over the world, resizing the country as you go, showing you just how big it is.

Try it, and you will discover some amazing things.

1. Greenland is still pretty big
Drag Greenland down toward the equator and it shrinks, but it’s still taller than the U.S.

2. The U.S. is even bigger than it seems.
The U.S. easily swamps Greenland and covers much of Western Europe. It’s also pretty much the same size as Canada, if you lop off all the icy, islandy parts at the top of Canada (which aren’t that big anyway—it’s just a trick of the map of course).

3. California is huge. Really huge.
In the U.S., California is a little strip of mostly desert that has a disproportionate influence on the rest off the country. Detach it from America, and it becomes clear that this little strip isn’t so small. California takes a large chunk out of Greenland, but completely covers the U.K. (including Northern Ireland), and encompasses all of Italy. If you place it right, you can make the Golden State stretch from London to Florence, Italy.

4. Alaska is also massive
Even dragged down from its area-inflating spot at the top of the map. Alaska manages to cover much of the center of the U.S. and is comparable in size to Libya. Not bad for a state that has only 737,000 inhabitants.

4. The U.S. is bigger than Australia
Australia seems huge partly because it is (2,969,907 square miles), and partly because it is so empty. Its 23-million population lives mostly on the coast, and the interior is filled with nothing but heat, emptiness, and creatures distinguished by the exotic ways in which they will kill you. The U.S. is a little bigger in size, with 319 million inhabitants and 3,805,927 square miles of space for them to squeeze into, and while there are still bears and crocodiles that can finish you off, the best way to die in the U.S. is to pick an argument with a human, who will shoot you.

In the physical world, globes have always been better than maps, scale-wise, because they’re little versions of the real world. But the True Size map goes one better, because it actually lets you drag the countries around to see how they measure up. It might not double as a secret liquor cabinet, but it offers an equally diverting way to spend an evening.

Have something to say about this article? You can email us and let us know. If it's interesting and thoughtful, we may publish your response.

Corrections, for you geography nuts: This article formerly misstated the area of the United States. It's not 9 million square miles, but it is 9 million square kilometers, if you were curious. Also, California was mislabeled as the Sunshine state and Northern Ireland was referred to as being not part of the U.K., which it still is for now.

The Fast Company Innovation Festival