Geotagging comes in many flavours. First, let’s take a look at Tagzania, a web site where you can add keywords to specific geographic locations, and track that keyword via RSS. I’m not sure how scalable this concept is; imagine the chaos if every bar and lake on the planet are tagged. Via Google Maps Mania. Been Mapped is similar, but uses annotations rather than tags: users label points, and other users can comment on them. A neat concept. Firefox or IE only; it blows up Safari. (Both of these services use Google Maps.) And finally, MAKE: Blog has another geotagging tutorial (see previous entry) — this one on how to geotag your del.icio.us bookmarks and have them show up in Google Earth.
This morning I uploaded a new design that I’ve been working on for a few days. I hope you like it; some of you had expressed a dislike of the old olive-green-and-yellow colour scheme. I was beginning to feel it was a bit oppressive, myself, so I stole the colour scheme from my personal home page and implemented it here.
It looks best in Firefox and Safari, and for once I’ve tested it against (a rather old version of) IE 6 for Windows, so it should work for almost all of you. There are still a few things needing fixing and updating here and there, which I will take care of in the next few days, but nothing major.
Just try and keep up with all the new Google Maps hacks. Come on, I dare you. I’m so far behind it’s ridiculous; Google Maps Mania, on the other hand, is doing a first-rate job. (It helps that they’re specialized; I’m trying to cover the whole gamut, and I have to make sure that the the non-Google Maps stuff gets a little room.)
If you’d like to see hacks listed in a directory, though, have a look at GMDir (thanks, Roberto).
Who says the data you mash up with Google Maps has to be static? Some of the best hacks are ones where the data is frequently updated, whether it’s daily or by the minute. For an example of the former, see this page tracking the biennial Transpac sailboat race between Long Beach and Honolulu; position reports from each boat are uploaded once daily. For an example of the latter, take a look at this page, which tracks the flight paths of the space shuttle Discovery and the International Space Station (as I write this, they’re docked). The data is updated by the minute: I left the page open and went down for breakfast; when I came back, I had nearly a complete orbit tracked across the map. Neat. (Google Maps Mania: 1, 2)
Getting Google Maps onto mobile devices is a natural step: when we’re going somewhere, we tend not to leave our maps behind, after all. One project was a hack to get Google Maps running on Series 60 Nokia phones, combining the Nokia Python SDK and data from a Bluetooth GPS; this was reported last April and I’m not sure if it’s still a going concern. More recent, however, is this project to put Google Maps on a Treo 650; it apparently works on other Palm OS 5 devices if you have Java installed. (O’Reilly Radar)
The requirements of each hint at a baseline device for this kind of thing: wireless data of some sort (cellular, WiFi) for connecting to the web to pull down the data from Google; and Bluetooth, for connecting to a GPS for location data.
Last week, Robert Scoble asked whether anyone was doing a comparison of the online mapping services. He got a couple of capsule reviews in the comments, but I’m not aware of any major review.
Reviewing the “big four” in online maps — Google Maps, MapQuest, Yahoo! Maps and MSN MapPoint (yes, in that order) — is problematic: they rely on the same map data and routing engine for directions, according to Webmapper, so it basically comes down to the user interface and extra features layered on top. But that apparently makes a big difference; via Webmapper again, a report concludes that people believe Google Maps is more reliable because of its user interface. Presentation matters, in other words; data along isn’t enough. It may be that Google’s clean pages, lacking the cruft of other services whose ads drown out a comparatively small map window, matters more to the general user than the hackability and other virtues we, as map enthusiasts, focus on.
This excellent site compares Google Maps and MSN Virtual Earth by presenting them side by side, so that you can see how each of them presents a location at a glance. Scroll through one window, and the other window matches your move. The fact that each service’s API allows you to do this on your own page puts both of them well ahead of anyone else; Yahoo, for example, hosts the maps produced through its API. O’Reilly Radar puts them both well ahead of Yahoo and doesn’t even mention MapQuest.
Speaking of MapQuest, despite their total lack of buzz during the past few months of frenzied mapping activity, they still managed to lead Yahoo! Maps and MapPoint in traffic in June (though it looks like Google Maps wasn’t even measured). If my readership survey numbers are any indication — they’re coming, honest! — then Google Maps and MapQuest are roughly neck and neck, with Yahoo third and MapPoint far, far behind, or at least that was the case last April, before Virtual Earth entered the picture. Who knows what the situation will be in even a few months?
For someone who claims he’s not a map aficionado, peacay’s awfully good about sending me excellent links to map sites. His latest submission is from a site that looks at the process of enclosure in Berkshire in the eighteenth and nineteenth centures; the site uses Ordnance Survey maps from the 1880s to illustrate the area and link to the relevant enclosure maps.
“It had to be done,” says Michael Brown, President of STREETWISE Maps. “Tokyo is the Mount Everest of cartography — without oxygen.” Streets with no names, a street grid resembling a noodle bowl and the fact that only a small portion of signage is in English all contribute to the map making altitude sickness other companies have encountered.
That bad, huh? Interesting.
By now you’ve no doubt heard the one about MSN Virtual Earth “deleting” Apple’s headquarters. But it’s obviously not a case of Microsoft editing out its rivals; Microsoft is simply using very old imagery. For another example, the World Trade Center is still standing in Virtual Earth. The Manhattan imagery dates to before 2001, obviously; the imagery for Apple’s location apparently dates to 1991. It came out in the Slashdot discussion that they’re using USGS photography, the vintage of which varies from place to place. Not dating the imagery, if it’s not reasonably current, is a valid complaint.
I’m surprised that Microsoft left the older imagery up before they launched. Frankly, they should have waited — either delaying the implementation of higher-resolution imagery where new imagery was not yet available, or delaying the entire launch. Fourteen years is a long time, especially in fast-growing areas — long enough that there’s absolutely no value in providing that level of resolution that out of date: the closer you zoom in, the more important it is that you be up to date. Mapping data
(It wouldn’t have killed them to wait: there are plenty of other features not yet implemented — non-U.S. high-res photos, for example — and the often-touted oblique “bird’s eye” view, reported here, is apparently scheduled for a second round of updates later this year.)
It’s too bad. Virtual Earth is otherwise a relatively solid, though buggy, beta: the mouse behaviour is inconsistent and flaky, and you can’t scroll between Siberia and Alaska; the mapping parts, though, seem relatively solid. But this incident only reinforces the belief that Microsoft can’t ship a decent product the first time out. Given the intensity with which people have been playing with Google’s satellite mode, it was inevitable that this would be caught. This may well be an “Egg Freckles” or “Eat Up Martha” moment that seals Virtual Earth’s reputation in the long run.
In this context, this post from the Virtual Earth team touting the quality of their high-resolution imagery comes across as so much bravado. Now, of course, it inspires Schadenfreude, but I didn’t like the post even before we discovered how old the imagery was: it smacked of too much marketing — something Microsoft’s been guilty of before. Worry more about the fundamentals of the product before marketing the shit out of it. Posts like Chandu’s and even this one are helpful, but we can do without the trash talk.
See previous entry: MSN Virtual Earth Launches.
Scoble was dropping hints Saturday that the launch of MSN Virtual Earth (previous entry) was coming up. The official launch is, in fact, mere minutes away as I write this. But, thanks to some last-minute testing, Virtual Earth was live for about 15 hours this weekend. People noticed, media embargoes be hanged (Scoble: 1 2; MetaFilter; Slashdot). As a result, some of us got a chance to take a look at the new Virtual Earth site before it was taken down again for the official launch.
Some first impressions. It’s within spitting distance of Google Maps, which is to say that it comes closer in features and usability than most of the other North American mapping services; its appearance is equivalent to Google’s hybrid mode. Panning worked well; zooming was much less usable: there was a slider, but it didn’t seem to function as such; only the plus and minus buttons were working for me. (Possibly a browser issue?) High-resolution imagery was uneven: in grayscale in some areas, and unavailable, apparently, outside the U.S. (for now).
One question is certain to be about its hackability (i.e., whether an API will be provided); this site should provide some answers. (Short version: yes.)
It’s still early going, and some features are no doubt yet to be discovered, or announced, or implemented. I was not able to find the oblique imagery that generated so much buzz at the announcement, for example. No doubt more will be revealed after the announcement in a few minutes’ time; the go-to blogs will undoubtedly be Scoble’s, Thota’s, and the Virtual Earth team blog.
One question I’ve received more than once (and that I know nothing about) is about maps as a career. According to last spring’s survey, most of us are amateurs rather than professionals: 68.3 per cent of you identified yourselves as having no professional status. Having said that, we all like maps (if not, what are you doing here?), so it’s no surprise that some of us wonder about mapping as a career. A couple of recent questions on this subject:
Looking at possibly going to school to become a cartographer, I was wondering how easy it is to find a job, what kind of money does one make, and will it involve lots of relocating?
I love maps. Was wondering what jobs are out there for us map lovers? Do they pay well? What kind of training/skills are needed? Is there any growth potential in this industry?
One question I have in this context is whether “cartography” in the original sense is no longer a career option, having been displaced by GIS. I remember reading a profile of an artist diagnosed with MS a few months back; I didn’t link to it then, but the following passage stuck with me, and it seems appropriate to mention it here:
About the same time she was diagnosed with MS, in 1992, cartography was beginning to be pushed out as an art form, in favour of computer mapping.
“Growing up, the game plan was always to be an artist. Making maps was a beautiful art. Now, it’s a dead art,” said Ms Kertzer, a graduate of the University of Waterloo’s fine arts and geography programs.
If so, does that mean that GIS is now the only career track for those interested in maps?
If you’re a mapping professional, we’d love to hear your take on this subject. (Of the survey’s respondents, 10 per cent identified as GIS professionals, 6.7 per cent as academics or students, 2.5 per cent were in surveying, and a couple of you each identified as non-academic cartographers and map librarians.) What’s the field like nowadays?
The New York Public Library’s Map Division has literally hundreds of thousands of maps and thousands of atlases in its vaults; hundreds of them are available online through the library’s Digital Gallery. Holdings include the Slaughter Collection of English maps, maps depicting the history of the U.S. and of New York in particular, and more. You could lose a lot of time sifting through them all. Thanks to peacay for the link.
Google Maps has introduced a so-called hybrid mode that overlays a street grid, names and route numbers on the satellite/aerial imagery. I have to confess that I’m awfully impressed by this; it really renders moot the question of switching between maps and photos, or creating a transparency between the two. (Google Blog)
Hand Made Maps is a London-based commercial art studio that specializes in maps; the site is an extensive portfolio of their recent work for various clients. Some really nice stuff there. Thanks to Clare Lyons for the link.
Russian cartography enthusiasts have managed to save what I think is a geodetic datum point, used in the mapping of Russia during the 19th century, the St. Petersburg Times reports. Such points were the basis around which topographical maps were made, I believe.
Marco Fioretti is looking for GIS PHP modules. He writes, “I have an urgent project to work on which includes processing GIS data with PHP, and I’d really like to start with something which is already tested.” My original post about the Image_GIS libraries, which he found, now points to a dead link, he reports; Image_GIS is now found here. Read on for what Marco needs; it’s quite technical and quite detailed.
Brandon writes in about this New Scientist article about “augmented maps,” where real-time information is projected onto paper maps:
This was an interesting article on combining multimedia and advanced technologies with hard copy maps for emergency situations. Having been involved in an emergency situation on the GIS side, I realized that it doesn’t matter how cool our technology is, hard copy maps are a long way from going out of style. They are just too useful on the ground. Anyway, I like this idea of combining old and new, instead of trying to replace the old.
Update: For more detail, see the Augmented Maps page from Cambridge’s engineering department.
I’ve talked about using a GPS with a Mac before, and even — back when this blog’s audience was a fraction of what it is now — solicited my readers’ opinions on which GPS I, as a Mac user (or hadn’t you noticed?), should use: see Which GPS? and GPS Replies.
Sean Fulton asks something similar: “I’m doing a Masters in GIS and Remote Sensing and I’m also a Mac user (mostly). I want a GPS for work and play. What GPS device are you using? For what applications?”
I can’t help him, because, believe it or not, I still don’t have a GPS. But we’ve got a healthy minority of Mac users reading this blog; maybe you can offer some advice. And I think I’d be helped as much as Sean by your answers. Hardware recommendations particularly welcome. I’ve blogged about Mac GPS software before (see below); what I’m looking for is what you can personally recommend. Thanks!
The story about how someone was able to get out of paying a traffic ticket by pointing to Google Maps via WiFi during his court appearance was posted all over the Web today. Cute.
John Resig writes, “It seems to have been a while since The Map Room talked about Universe Transverse Mercator. I’ve written up my experences learning this alternative coordinate system along with a brief overview of how the system works. For the programmers in the audience, there’s some excellent libraries available to make your lat/lon to UTM (and vice versa) conversions simple, which I cover too.”
Shortly after my last post on Friday, our cable connection to the Internet was snapped, presumably by a passing vehicle, and we’ve only been able to get it reconnected today. (One of the disadvantages of living in a small town is that a cable company’s repair staff is stretched pretty thin.) Hence the lack of posts over the past few days. Your forbearance, please, while I try to catch up on everything.
Nick writes on Here Be Dragons: “I was just playing with multimap.com’s aerial photograph feature, and noticed something I hadn’t seen mentioned on here before — Ordnance Survey map overlays applied dynamically on mouseover over the aerial photo.” Nick’s example. Google may get all the attention (here too, I have to confess), but that’s got to be the coolest integration of satellite/aerial photography and maps that I’ve yet seen.
During World War Two, London County Council kept maps showing the damage caused to the city by German bombs. They did it by hand-colouring Ordnance Survey maps, each colour representing a certain amount of damage. Now, the BBC reports, the London Metropolitan Archives and the London Topographical Society are co-publishing the maps as an atlas, The London County Council Bomb Damage Maps, 1939-45, purchasing details for which are here. Via Here Be Dragons.
Reed College’s Antiquarian Maps site hasn’t been updated in six years, and several pages have presumably been “under construction” since that time. But, says peacay, who submitted this link, “there are definitely some fine maps available — with a high resolution option, just a bit slow on ADSL.” It’s an eclectic mix of maps — 82 of them, from the 1500s to the 1800s.
A few more reviews of recently published mapping books.
Urban Cartography’s review of Mapping Hacks: “[The authors have] made a technical book that is not technical; they’ve made a manual that is automatic; they’ve made a really fun and interesting book on a subject whose instruction manuals are far too often boring and dry.” Boing Boing also has a brief review.
Tyler Mitchell’s Web Mapping Illustrated gets a review at Directions: “But, do be warned, there is code in the book. It’s nicely broken up and explained so that anyone with interest need not be overwhelmed. … This isn’t exactly for non-programmers, but you won’t need to know too much to get things running.”
I’m in the awkward position of having to write posts about Google Earth without so much as being able to download it — at least, not until their promised Mac version comes out. Until that hopefully-not-too-long-off day, I can only go by what other people say. For example, my dad has downloaded it and he says it’s pretty neat. But if you don’t take his word for it, how about the Washington Post’s? They had a review about a week and a half ago that covered it in detail, warts and all.
It’s no surprise that the hacks have come fast and furious. For example, here’s one that adds Chicago real estate data to Google Earth (via The Unofficial Google Weblog). A lot of them are available at Google Earth Hacks, which aims to serve as a repository.
Though it’s probably a mistake to call them hacks, since the software expressly links up with third-party data over a network — the so-called “network link” that Rev Dan Catt calls the “killer app” for Google Earth. It’s all about data in KML format. Before you go all glossy-eyed, fear not: The Tao of Mac has a tutorial on making your own KML files with PHP (via MAKE: Blog). For people who know their XML, there is a KML tutorial and documentation from Google itself.
Not that I pretend to understand any of this; it’ll probably make more sense when I actually use a copy of this software. Which — hint to Google programmers — I hope will be soon.
See previous entry: Wired on Google Earth.
The Engineering Timelines Map of the British Isles assembles maps with points depicting events in the history of British engineering generated from search results. I’m having a hard time grasping the concept, much less explaining it, but play around with it and see what you think. They give Isambard Kingdom Brunel as an example. Via Plep.
Intel is experimenting with using WiFi and cellular networks instead of GPS to pinpoint users’ locations, CNet reports. The problem this proposes to solve is that people in urban areas are rarely outside enough to get a clear GPS signal. But using data networks for positioning will set off all sorts of privacy alarm bells, I think.
“Mapping Colonial America” is (1) an online exhibit on the Colonial Williamsburg site, available in low-bandwidth and high-bandwidth Flash versions; (2) a real-life exhibit at the DeWitt Wallace Museum of Decorative Art in Williamsburg, Virginia, running until October 9; (3) based on Prichard and Talliaferro’s book, Degrees of Latitude: Mapping Colonial America. (Thanks to Edie for the link.)
As far as official mapping APIs are concerned, Yahoo! and Google announced theirs at roughly the same time. But, thanks to the unofficial hacks and a big lead in mindshare, Google Maps is getting all the attention. This isn’t something that Yahoo! is content to accept; they’ve launched a PR blitz — inasmuch as e-mailing yours truly a couple of times can be considered such — to promote the various hacks using the Yahoo! Maps API. In contrast, Google is much more hands-off with its hackers; then again, they’re not the hungry ones, and besides, just imagine the effort in keeping track of them all!
Anyway, Yahoo!’s operatives are keen to point out a few examples of the API in use, such as this map that plots Yahoo! News stories on a map of the U.S., a crime map for a San Francisco neighbourhood, a map of San Diego bloggers, and a community-generated map of Milwaukee. The mashups work quite well, I thought, and the interface is clean.
Sooner or later someone will hack the same data via both APIs. Then there will be blood on the floor. Two APIs enter, one API leaves.
Computer geeks are the ones hacking Google Maps. Computer geeks like WiFi. No surprise, then, that several of the map hacks using the Google Maps API involve wireless hotspot locations. Maps of free WiFi access points are available for New York, Chicago (click for a suburb; buggy when I tried it) and Portland, Oregon; this map shows EVDO access point congestion, but it’s apparently buggy. Via Google Maps Mania (1, 2, 3) and MAKE: Blog.
It probably says something about our society that one of the most common Google Maps API hacks is to plot the addresses of registered sex offenders from public databases. Recent hacks include pages for Georgia, Chicago, Lawton, Oklahoma and Utah. Via Google Maps Mania: 1, 2, 3. See previous entries: Another Google Maps Roundup, Megan’s Law Maps.
It seems that every time I step away from the computer, I come back to several new mapping hacks using the Google Maps API (see previous entry). I’ve got some backlog to work through, suffice to say. But first I want to point to one that impresses me a lot: Alan Taylor has done a lot of neat things before with web services; his latest is Google Maps Transparencies, which combines the maps and the satellite images and crossfades them: a centre square, either satellite or map, is semi-transparent, so you can see the surrounding opposite display through it. Not only is it visually impressive, but it’s a great way to see where the mapping data and satellite imagery diverge, as they inevitably do here and there. (Thanks to Scott at Semiquark.)
Import Cartography reviews Tyler Mitchell’s Web Mapping Illustrated: “IT and Web professionals looking to break into geospatial and mapping work will find this book to be the ideal starting point, as will those who are graduating from Google map hacks to more unique and data-dependent applications.”
MapSouthampton is Southampton City Council’s interacctive mapping service; it’s a Java-based map tool that allows you to view, pan and zoom several layers of data — the sort of slow, clunky web-based interface to GIS data that looks embarrassing since Google Maps came along. But I digress. The news is that MapSouthampton has added city maps from 1846 and 1870 as layers, which can be overlaid on more modern maps. Being able to mix the old with the new is a neat thing; too often, we’re talking about old maps or new mapping technologies in isolation around here. Thanks to Ian Cuddy for the link.
Pablo Halkyard writes:
I am trying to find out about a German cartographer, Matthaeus Seutter (1678-1757) who drew and published a map called “Le Pays de Perou et Chili” (The Countries of Peru and Chile). I am trying to find out when this map was published, whether it was part of an atlas (or was it a separate map), and who engraved the map? If you had any ideas as to any sources I could perhaps turn to I would be immensely appreciative.
Scans of the map in question can be viewed here and here. Here’s a brief biography of Seutter, in case you’re wondering who Pablo is talking about. This question is kind of specialized, but I suspect I should never underestimate my readers. Anyone?
We’ve dealt with the questions of where to buy a very big wall-sized world map and which world atlas is best, but these subjects came up on Ask MetaFilter recently, and you might find some of the answers useful: the world map question got some answers not mentioned here; and, in the best atlas thread, the majority view was that the Times Atlas of the World was by far the best. Note, though, that an 11th edition of the Times atlas is coming out next month.
Alexander Stengel reports that MapMemo 2 is now out. (See previous entry for version one.) It’s an interesting concept: software that allows you to geotag your files and links and display them on a map from which you can open them. A map-based Finder, in other words. The new version adds archiving — essentially, bundling the files along with the maps — and some interface improvements. The pricing structure has changed as well: it’s now 18€ if you want to edit and save a file more than five times. It’s Mac-only, and requires Panther (10.3) or later.
The European Space Agency’s ENVISOLAR project is mapping the amount of sunlight received around the globe. Solar radiation data is useful not only for solar energy generation, but also for agriculture, tourism, and even health care (rickets, skin cancer). Via WorldChanging.
The Personal World Map’s purpose “is to give awareness of the user’s actual position in the world in relation to other places by taking into account the ‘effort’ needed to get to a certain destination.” Travel time and cost play in the results generated by this visually appealing interactive map. More at We Make Money Not Art; via Kottke.
A couple of traffic-related items to report this afternoon.
- Wiresoft offers highway traffic conditions for mobile phones for a dozen locations in the U.S. It’s a free service, but your phone has to be able to support it; the page has a list.
- The New Scientist reports on a new, predictive traffic forecasting system that combines current conditions with historical trends. Apparently it’s going live now in California, and being rolled out in other centres later. Via All Points Blog.
I’m overdue in posting this one, which comes to us thanks to James. Tyler Mitchell, whose Web Mapping Illustrated, a guide to free mapping software, is now shipping, had an article up on O’Reilly last month that I think serves as a précis for the book: An Introduction to Open Source Geospatial Tools. In case you’re wondering, this is developer-grade stuff.
- Buy Web Mapping Illustrated at Amazon.com
The world of spatial data is changing rapidly. But, will things change as far as data licencing and availability is concerned? Will local authorities be making their vast amounts of data more freely available? Will cartographers, and in particular the so-called “community cartographers” have freer access to basic geodata in the future? Will initiatives such as Creative Commons licensing have any significant effect? I don’t have any immediate answers to these questions, but I am certainly interested in them and feel that the cartographic industry needs to be taking a close interest in these developments.
If you want to find out more about these developments that may well affect you significantly as cartographers you should consider attending the Society of Cartographers Summer School this September, at Cambridge University. There is a whole morning session on the topic, with 6 presentations from contributors that include Roger Longhorn (policy analyst), Peter Cridland (local authority GIS expert), Ed Parsons (Chief Technology Officer at OS), and 3 “carto-activists” — if I may use such a phrase. After the presentations there is also a Panel Discussion involving all 6 presenters, where you will have a chance to ask questions, make your points, or just enjoy what looks like being a lively debate. The Summer School also has the usual mix of formal presentations (including a keynote address by Chris Board, OBE), plus demos, workshops, visits and social events.
MAKE: Blog has a geotagging tutorial that covers every step of the process and several different web services: taking the photo, getting the lat/long coordinates from a GPS or Google Maps, uploading the photos to Flickr, adding the lat/long coordinates as tags, and viewing the photos on a map from either Mappr or Google Earth. While there are a lot of steps, it’s really not that difficult; sooner or later, though, someone’s bound to simplify the process (a cameraphone with a built-in GPS would do the trick, with the right software).
Today’s Wired News article, Map Hacks on Crack, covers the announcements of, rules for, and reactions to the Google and Yahoo! Maps APIs. “Both companies are hoping the new mapping APIs, or application programming interfaces, will excite developers, help the companies find new employees and, perhaps most importantly, result in free product prototyping.” See previous entries: Google Maps API; More Google Links, Yahoo! Maps API.