Google Maps Updates

Recent Google Maps updates include driving mode, an Android-only navigation mode that, as Android Police describes it, “uses your location history and web searches to make assumptions about where you’re going and give traffic updates and ETAs as you travel” [via]. Also this week, the world’s largest model railway, Hamburg’s Minatur Wunderland, was added to Street View. Quite engrossing if you’re into model trains.

Cyber Squirrel 1

Cyber Squirrel 1, a map that tracks electrical outages caused by squirrels, birds, raccoons and other critters, is only semi-satirical. Its point is that animals disrupt the power grid more than hackers ever have. (The number caused by the latter may be one. Or two.) As Popular Science puts it, “If there is a cyber war happening, it’s one fought between humanity and nature, not nations against each other.” GizmodoWashington Post.

Mapping the Refugee Crisis


Here are two interactive maps that show the scale of recent refugee migrations. Lucify’s interactive map (screenshot above) shows the flow of asylum seekers to European countries since 2012. And this interactive map, compiled by The Conversation from UNHCR data, shows the size of refugee populations originating from or residing within each country from 1975 to 2010. In each case, the numbers grow with each passing year. More from Scientific American’s SA Visual blog. [via]

Mapping Aid Worker Attacks

An interactive map of attacks on aid workers since 2000. IRIN: “This map, a joint product between IRIN and Humanitarian Outcomes, is the first time ever the full scope of aid worker security events has been presented in visual form, which can be searched and filtered and browsed. It shows events from the beginning of 2000 until the end of May 2015. It’s a sobering testament to the dangerous work of saving lives.” [via]

And in Google Maps News …

Google’s Map Maker is in the process of reopening, with six countries reopening on August 10 and another 45 countries last Monday. Map Maker, Google’s tool allowing users to make changes to Google Maps, was suspended last May after some embarrassing edits came to light. Regional leads are now in place to review user edits before they go live on the map.

If mapcodes and other geographical shortcodes aren’t Googly enough for you, take a look at Open Location Codes, a Google-developed, open-sourced project. Generated algorithmically rather than with data tables. Announced for developers last April, they can now be used in Google Maps searches.

RIP Yahoo Maps

Citing changing priorities, Yahoo announced today that Yahoo Maps is among the products that it will be shutting down; it’ll go dark at the end of this month. “However,” says Yahoo chief architect Amotz Maimon, “in the context of Yahoo search and on several other Yahoo properties including Flickr, we will continue to support maps.” Business Insider, TechCrunch, VentureBeat.

For a few years Yahoo Maps got frequent upgrades and improvements. The current map platform launched in May 2007; it replaced a Flash-based map engine that first debuted as a beta in November 2005 and became the default map a year later, replacing an even older map service that, if my memory serves, was like the pre-Google Maps MapQuest. Since then Yahoo Maps has stagnated—but for a while there, before Google Maps became the dominant juggernaut it is today, it could have been a contender.

Map Anniversaries

Apollo 14: Mitchell Studies Map

Google Maps turned 10 years old on Sunday—a milestone observed by Samuel Gibbs in the Guardian. See also Liz Gannes’s retrospective at Re/Code. My reaction on launch day was pretty effusive—I was blown away mainly by the user interface. But it wasn’t immediately dominant: it took roughly four years for Google to surpass MapQuest in traffic.

Meanwhile, the Pro version of Google Earth, which used to cost $400/year, is now free. Google Earth itself launched in June 2005, so is approaching its own 10-year anniversary, but it began its existence a few years earlier as Keyhole EarthViewer 3D.

Speaking of map anniversaries, National Geographic Maps is marking its centennial.

The photo above marks another anniversary: It shows Apollo 14 astronaut Ed Mitchell consulting a map during his second lunar EVA on February 6, 1971. Apollo 14 returned to Earth 44 years ago yesterday.

Importing CanVec Data into OpenStreetMap

Last February I imported CanVec data into OpenStreetMap for the first time.

CanVec is a dataset produced by the federal Department of Natural Resources. It’s been made available to use in OpenStreetMap: users have to download the data for a given area and import it into the OSM database.

It’s a great resource, but I’ve been giving CanVec the side eye for years, largely because OSM users had been bungling the imports and not cleaning up the mess they made. To some extent it also encouraged a certain amount of laziness from Canadian OSM users: why go to the trouble of tracing imagery or going out with a GPS if you could just download the data from the Natural Resources FTP server?

That said, most of my complaints were from a few years ago; it’s been a while since I’ve seen a CanVec-induced mess in the database (for example, doubled or even tripled roads imported on top of one another). And between existing imports and the improved Bing aerial and satellite imagery coverage, there weren’t many places I was aware of that I could, you know, try a CanVec import for myself.

Except one.

Continue reading “Importing CanVec Data into OpenStreetMap”

Error Reporting in Apple Maps

A major feature of Apple’s forthcoming Maps application for OS X 10.9 Mavericks is enhanced error reporting. AppleInsider has the details. This was inevitable, not just because of the uneven quality of Apple’s maps and the reputational firebombing they’ve gotten since their launch last year, but because all online maps suck and need error reporting. Of course, reports are one thing; how quickly and effectively they’re acted on—that’s what’s important.

Previously: Apple Maps on the Mac.

Apple Maps on the Mac

A Mac version of Apple’s maps was among the new features announced for Mac OS X 10.9 Mavericks at Apple’s Worldwide Developers Conference (WWDC) on Monday. Coverage: 9to5Mac, The Verge. I’m surprised to see that they’re doing it as a standalone application rather than on the Web, which is what I’d expected. One trick of the app is that you can send turn-by-turn directions to your iOS device. There’s an API, so developers will also be able to integrate the maps into their own apps. If they want. Cue old and tired jokes about Apple maps’ quality in three, two …

New Google Maps: First Impressions

To be honest, my first impression of the new Google Maps design was how sluggish it seemed. My iMac has a quad-core Ivy Bridge Core i5, a dedicated graphics chipset and a 20-Mbps Internet connection, so I found that a bit disappointing. I didn’t think “resource intensive” would have implications for my current setup. It seemed a little better, though not perfect, using Chrome instead of Safari; Chrome also supports integrated 3D Google Earth mode (Safari is relegated to Lite mode). Performance is going to be something to keep an eye on; I hope they can optimize it.

Eliminating whitespace gives you a nice gigantic map, which is hard to consider bad in any way, but it does feel a bit overwhelming, like there’s too much map to process. Google keeps most of the map, except for major highways, dim for the most part, highlighting relevant content for specific uses—i.e., click on a location and nearest intersecting main streets highlight, ask for directions and exit numbers appear even at high zooms. It’s very, very subtle, something you might not notice. Much of the interface is moved from the sidebar to the map: Street View is accessed by clicking the road, for example—Pegman is nowhere to be seen.

Kenneth Field has some thoughts on the new maps, particularly in terms of whether Google has succeeded in creating personalized cartography. AppleInsider’s glee at discovering the same sort of image distortions that were called out in Apple’s maps last fall is plain for anyone to see.

Have you had a chance to play with it yet?

Google Maps Redesigned

Google announced a complete redesign of Google Maps at their I/O developer conference yesterday. The new maps are vector-based, take up the entire browser window and change based on the context—highlighting certain streets, for example, based on a search—and your usage patterns. It’s also apparently quite resource intensive: these are maps designed for fast processors and fast Internet connections. It’s just an invite-only preview at the moment. For coverage see Engadget and The Verge.