Web mapping is the process of designing, implementing, generating and delivering maps on the World Wide Web and its product. While web mapping primarily deals with technological issues, web cartography additionally studies theoretic aspects: the use of web maps, the evaluation and optimization of techniques and workflows, the usability of web maps, social aspects, and more. Web GIS is similar to web mapping but with an emphasis on analysis, processing of project specific geodata and exploratory aspects. Often the terms web GIS and web mapping are used synonymously, even if they don't mean exactly the same. In fact, the border between web maps and web GIS is blurry. Web maps are often a presentation media in web GIS and web maps are increasingly gaining analytical capabilities.
A special case of web maps are mobile maps, displayed on mobile computing devices, such as mobile phones, smart phones, PDAs and GPS. If the maps on these devices are displayed by a mobile web browser or web user agent, they can be regarded as mobile web maps. If the mobile web maps also display context and location sensitive information, such as points of interest, the term Location-based services is frequently used."
"The use of the web as a dissemination medium for maps can be regarded as a major advancement in cartography and opens many new opportunities, such as realtime maps, cheaper dissemination, more frequent and cheaper updates of data and software, personalized map content, distributed data sources and sharing of geographic information. It also implicates many challenges due to technical restrictions (low display resolution and limited bandwidth, in particular with mobile computing devices, many of which are physically small, and use slow wireless Internet connections), copyright and security issues, reliability issues and technical complexity. While the first web maps were primarily static, today's web maps can be fully interactive and integrate multiple media. This means that both web mapping and web cartography also have to deal with interactivity, usability and multimedia issues."
The advent of web mapping can be regarded as a major new trend in cartography. Previously, cartography was restricted to a few companies, institutes and mapping agencies, requiring expensive and complex hardware and software as well as skilled cartographers and geomatics engineers. With the rise of web mapping, a range of data and technology was born - from free data generated by OpenStreetMap to proprietary datasets owned by Navteq, Google, Waze, and others. A range of free software to generate maps has also been generated, alongside proprietary tools like ArcGIS. As a result, the barrier to entry for creating maps on the web has shifted from that of the paper atlas and other traditional cartography.
A first classification of web maps has been made by Kraak. He distinguished static and dynamic web maps and further distinguished interactive and view only web maps. However, today in the light of an increased number of different web map types, this classification needs some revision. Today, there are additional possibilities regarding distributed data sources, collaborative maps, personalized maps, etc.