Subscribe to this thread
Home - General / All posts - "area" or "poylgon" ?

7,449 post(s)
#20-Nov-23 07:21

For many years Manifold has used the term "area" to refer to vector objects that virtually every other GIS calls "polygons". In Manifold it is areas, lines, and points while in most other packages it is polygons, lines (or sometimes polylines), and points.

A frequent request, especially from companies and new users who work with other GIS products and who are adding Manifold to their toolset, is that Manifold stop using the term "areas" for objects and instead switch to using the term "polygons," reserving the term "area" for meaning a measurement in square meters, square feet or other areal units. That would help avoid confusion from phrases like "what's the average area of those areas?" which is easier to understand when written "what's the average area of those polygons?"

How do people feel about that? Should Manifold switch to using "polygon" instead of the current "area" for vector objects? The SQL functions would not be renamed, but user interface elements and documentation would be.

Rakau112 post(s)
#20-Nov-23 08:11

I believe that the Area is a great point of difference, particularly given that we can use points, lines & areas in a single layer.

I find there are ,many 'different' ways of thinking between Manifold and the rest, and would be in favour of keeping the name as is. It is not hard to understand that an area is a polygon


690 post(s)
#20-Nov-23 09:21

I see no need for a name change. But I should add that there is no ambiguity regarding "area" in the Dutch translation either.

628 post(s)
#20-Nov-23 10:54

I don't mind either way. Estonian translation does not have that ambiguity and would not change.

10,094 post(s)
#20-Nov-23 14:39

I prefer "area". It is better English IMHO.

Besides since areas can now have curved elements in their borders, "polygon" would be inaccurate.

Mike Pelletier

2,138 post(s)
#20-Nov-23 14:59

Whatever is more practical for Manifold is fine. To add to Tim's comment, one definition I saw on the web says a polygon cannot have holes, as well as no curves.

186 post(s)
#20-Nov-23 15:05

I'm comfortable with the term 'area'. I'm aware that lots of GIS users use polygon, but as far as the Portuguese localization file goes area is a better option than polygon. In lots of menu options some words are truncated in the Portuguese localization file and adding the word polígono (polygon in Portuguese) with twice the letters would worsen this case.

439 post(s)
#20-Nov-23 15:26

For me, I see no need to switch the present Manifold terminology.


526 post(s)
#20-Nov-23 15:42

While not against using polygon with its definitions. I do like the use of Area.


6,410 post(s)
#20-Nov-23 16:03

If you know what to do with the term polygon, you can also interpret area correctly. Others find it easier with 'area'. No need to change.

Do you really want to ruin economy only to save the planet?


2,064 post(s)
#20-Nov-23 21:07

I am comfortable with either, but would typically think of area rather than polygon. Rightly or wrongly, I do however tend to use the two terms interchangeably.

Manifold seems to typically be pretty precise with its choice of terminology. As such I guess 'area" rather than polygon was originally decided upon for good reason?

Landsystems Ltd ... Know your land |


7,449 post(s)
#21-Nov-23 07:00

As such I guess 'area" rather than polygon was originally decided upon for good reason?

As they say, the road to you-know-where is paved with good intentions. :-) The canonical essay on those "good reasons" is the annoying Terminology in GIS topic in the Release 8 manual, which, mercifully, was edited out of the Release 9 manual. That essay was originally written years ago, around Release 4.50, when Manifold's main interest was making GIS more accessible to ordinary people.

That essay's thesis is still valid, that if you want to make GIS more accessible to millions of ordinary people it is better to use common words like "line" and "area" and "drawing" instead of confusing words like "arc", "polygon" and "coverage". But the essay could have been much less overbearing when pointing out the mathematical illiteracy of Esri's use of those terms.

Since then, both Esri and Manifold have lightened up. Esri now uses "lines" and Manifold recognizes the inertia that has built up from decades of Esri terminology. There is still a deep interest in making GIS accessible to "ordinary people", but that has to be wrapped around what has emerged as a higher priority of making more powerful GIS that can work effectively and pleasantly with ever-larger data.

Here in the Manifold community people have become accustomed the word "area", so that sounds natural to us. But if you go to a gathering of people who use other GIS packages, all you hear is "polygon."

For translations, "area" works in English because it is one of those words that has many meanings, and often just the right meaning, in different contexts. That effect also works in other languages, but it's not true of all languages. It's like the English expression "OK," which can mean both "yes" in answer to a question and "apply" in the context of having made an option change, and similar when used as a label on a dialog button. Not all languages have such a universal expression that can mean "yes", "accept", "apply", "commit" and so on, with just one tag applicable in different contexts. I think that's why many languages just leave it as "OK", a new word they've imported from English.

It's not simple to change "area" because the word is used in Manifold code and documentation to mean "areal measurement", "region" and "area object" so you can't just do a search and replace. Somebody who understands the context of its use has to go through every instance in the code and in tags (knowing when a tag is used as a caption for "areal measurement" as opposed to "area object") and also documentation. With around 14,000 illustrations, over a thousand topics and millions of lines of code, that can take a while. But it's doable, probably only around a man-week.

That's not worthwhile for our community, but I go back and forth on whether I think it's worthwhile to make Manifold more accessible for people in the Esri, Q, and spatial database communities. I've seen a few simulations and they read quite naturally, although it's weird how for the first few moments you feel like you're reading some Esri documentation. :-) For example:

Drawings are made up of points, lines, and polygons. The drawing seen above has buildings drawn using polygons, footpaths and roads drawn using lines, and individual locations of interest drawn using points. The points, lines, and polygons in the drawing have been Styled using varying colors and symbology, for example, blue star symbols for the points.

After a few paragraphs like the above I find myself forgetting that "area" was ever used, which is another weird feeling when you catch yourself in that remembrance. But then, I read a lot of non-Manifold GIS stuff so I'm very used to "polygon".

I keep getting the feeling that sooner or later it would be wise for Manifold to listen to some of the larger organizations that are pushing for the change. They have their well-established ways of referring to things and they don't want what is for them is an alien word. For our community, I don't think it would be a wrenching change, since in our community people are used to hearing both words. But definitely it is something to ask about, to hear how people feel.

264 post(s)
#21-Nov-23 08:12

I think every person can easily understand in a few seconds what "Areas" are in Manifold, even if he have been using other software with other terminology for ages.

Regarding localizations: Are they really important? Are they any GIS professionals in the West or in India or wherever that don't know English and are more accustomed to English GIS terminology? And what is the use of a translation of the Manifold interface, if the user manual is not translated too? When someone needs to find something he would still have to do a search in English, and so get help in a language other than the interface he uses.

What would make Manifold more accessible to people using other GIS software is having similar workflows. But I don't think that adapting Manifold workflows to QGIS workflows for example is really desirable. And not because me or other people using Manifold are just used to a specific way of doing things. It's because in general Manifold workflows are more "rational" than QGIS (and maybe Arc too, I don't use it). (Maybe I am wrong in that argument, because, contrary to what I say, maybe actually I am just used to Manifold way of doing things.)

Regarding making Manifold more accessible to "the masses", why should one spend too much effort on trying to do that? "Ordinary people" have Google Earth* and they don't need more than that. On the other hand, if by "ordinary people" we mean people doing not GIS work such as 3D models for games, or photogrammetry, probably there is ground for Manifold to enter those markets.

(*Regarding Google Earth: There are basic tools that Google Earth has and M9 doesn't: A tool to interactively measure an area, a search toolbar to navigate to somewhere on earth, coordinate labels for grids, displaying elevation when you hover over some place. That's really a pity that a tool for "ordinary people" has some basic tools than a professional software doesn't.)


7,449 post(s)
#21-Nov-23 09:57

Regarding localizations: Are they really important? Are they any GIS professionals in the West or in India or wherever that don't know English and are more accustomed to English GIS terminology?

All very good questions. Yes, localizations are really important. There are hundreds of millions of people in the non-English speaking world who either use GIS or are in the target market to use GIS who want a localized package. Non-English speaking GIS users are not accustomed to English GIS terminology, but they are accustomed to terminology used in indigenous packages or translated packages, almost all of which it appears use the local word for "polygon". Esri has been very influential. :-)

A big change in the last 20 years is that today the largest and fastest growing GIS markets in the world are not English speaking markets. Another big change is that the economies which are growing fastest today are not English speaking. Since you mention India, the IMF has updated its numbers to 6.3% economic growth for India in 2023. China is at 5%, Indonesia at 5%, Malaysia at 4%, and the Philippines at 5.3%. Germany, the economic locomotive of Europe, is in recession, at -0.5%, France is at 1% and Italy at 0.7%. The UK is at 0.5% and the US at 2.1%, with Canada at 1.3% and Australia at 1.8%. (The IMF's map is here.)

It's not just Manifold that sees that. Winning market share in the non-English speaking world has become a very big deal for everybody from the Fortune 500 to big governments.

Most important is what you also wrote:

And what is the use of a translation of the Manifold interface, if the user manual is not translated too?

That's spot on. Translating user manuals is a very big deal. That's one reason why Manifold introduced a shorter, "quick start" section, to provide a concise version that is easier to translate. The actual localization of the user interface is not as big a deal, but it does control what must be used in the user manual, since the user manual has to conform to the terminology in the user interface. Structuring the user manual for expected translations also feeds back into what we use in this (English-language) community, since it is far easier to maintain just one canonical manual in English that can be the source for many translations.

As for "ordinary people," it's true that less technical users will only use a small part of Manifold. That's OK. It's still a good idea to try to keep the terminology accessible to as many people as possible.

There I think both Esri and Q are lagging. Esri still uses tradition-bound jargon that is not so accessible to intelligent, reasonably computer-savvy people who are new to GIS, when Esri could be using more straightforward English terms. I talk to very expert IT people who know databases and programming and web stuff and they're mystified by some of the Esri jargon. But I get it that with Esri's installed base they have the language they've invested into learning and plenty of people in that installed base like it that the arcane terminology is something that indicates they're in the club. It's something they've invested into that helps maintain their status.

Q I think tends to overdo the technicality of their terminology as a psychological defense mechanism, to show they're not a bunch of amateurs but should be taken seriously as knowledgeable practitioners. So they use "coordinate reference system" instead of "projection". Well, OK, that's a perfectly valid term, but to my taste it is less accessible to people who are moving into GIS with some cartographic awareness from a more general education.

10,094 post(s)
#21-Nov-23 08:22

I should have said before, it is really good of you to ask, Dimitri. I think everyone who has replied above would say the same. Thank you for asking.

Now with a different kind of grin (maybe a smirk):

Given Manifold's name (and perhaps its primordial intent), instead of "area" or "polygon", what would be wrong with "surface"?

9 has relieved that word from its idiosyncratic usage in 8. I'm not saying that the 8 usage was wrong, but now the purer mathematical heritage of the word is free to shine.

Let's adopt "surface".

Not entirely facetious. Surface is correct, which is one advantage, and has the additional benefit of applying to all area objects, whether described by points or arcs or equations or a combination, and whether in 2D, 3D or xD (x being some member of R).

264 post(s)
#21-Nov-23 08:32

"Surface" could be better than area, but I think people got used to "surface" implying 3D information existence.

10,094 post(s)
#21-Nov-23 08:37

I agree, you are right.

Anyway, correctness of terminology is not make-or-break, is it.

No one who loves Manifold will stop using it if areas should become "polygons", whether that is technically correct or not.

Maybe some hesitant new users would be less hesitant, more open to adoption, if the change were made.

It's marketing not maths.

Mike Pelletier

2,138 post(s)
#21-Nov-23 17:18

Perhaps if those larger organizations knew that the term polygon is inaccurate because of curves and holes they would be less insistent. It's simple to know what area and polygon refer to. I'd prefer effort went into making the product better so they happily overlook little things like that. Of course, if they are big revenue source than perhaps its worth it.


4,261 post(s)
#21-Nov-23 10:24

area is much better and I've used it in preference for many years exactly because of Manifold

in simple features waffle-speak you must distinguish polygons and multipolygons, and they're all just nested lines anyway, absolutely no different to a "multilinestring" (apart from one level of nesting for where holes and islands must always live relative to one another) - and to calculate area you must carefully sum up the islands and subtract the holes ... simple features gets put up as some kind of gold standard when really it's a lowest-common-denominator way for applications to communicate at an atomic-record level. Then there's so-called 3D polygons and 3D polygons with Measure (but it's all just lines in the plane anyway so it's completely silly, you might as well store a grouped and arranged table of coordinates).

Manifold clearly has more smarts when it comes to representation of planar partitions ... so IMO "area" is a way better term and corresponds exactly to what is being covered and provides a nice point of difference to when you also like to reserve exactly how you choose to represent those objects :) When Manifold goes for true 3D+ you can use the term surface, and it will be completely clear what points and lines (any dimension geometrically), areas (strictly 2D planar only), and surfaces (again any dimension geometrically) really mean. Save "polygon" for the interchange.



2,064 post(s)
#21-Nov-23 18:43

I am definitely most comfortable with area (probably because I have exclusively used Manifold for the last 20 years or so).

A thought, perhaps daft, but could the manual also have different "localisation files", for example one that changes the nomenclature to ESRI speak or to standard Manifold language?

This may not be possible as I don't know how these things work but perhaps could be an option, who knows? You could automatically engage the ESRI one for products such as SQL for ArcGIS Pro and publish the "localisation files" for other users to install if they care.

Landsystems Ltd ... Know your land |


642 post(s)
#21-Nov-23 20:57

Dan, that made me laugh!

more seriously, I fall into the area camp, swayed all those years ago by the M8 manual/lecture. I routinely assist a variety of people in GIS use, be that QGIS, Arc everything, and Manifold. ESRI nomenclature captures users and decision makers, in almost cult like ways. "Spatialis special." Using the terms point, line, area is straight forward, and goes some way to break down the power of ESRI language.

It may be the same as the GUI. Users find the sublime quiet interface challenging at first if coming from an ESRI background. New users find the opposite. Manifold is easier to to learn the basics, if you have never used a GIS before.


992 post(s)
#24-Nov-23 05:48

Stick with area, it works just fine.

Manifold User Community Use Agreement Copyright (C) 2007-2021 Manifold Software Limited. All rights reserved.