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.

OpenStreetMap’s New Map Editor

OpenStreetMap has launched a new map editing interface that runs, for the first time, in HTML5. (Potlatch, the previous web-based map editor, uses Flash, and JOSM runs in Java, which I always thought was ironic for an open project.) The editor, called iD, is live now, and is designed to make editing the map more accessible to beginning mapmakers. I’ve given it a quick try this morning. My summary judgment is that if you have any experience using another editor, you should stick with it. iD is far slower than Potlatch at the moment, and does things sufficiently differently that you might have a hard time finding things. I made a mess trying to edit the existing map. But will it lower the barrier to making new contributions, particularly for casual or non-technical contributors? I hope so.

OpenStreetMap in Ottawa

I nearly forgot to mention that last Sunday I gave a presentation on the state of OpenStreetMap in Ottawa to the SummerCamp 2011 Mapping Party. It was a small group — five of us, the majority of whom knew more about the subject than I did — and, due to technical snafus with the meeting location, was held in a Bridgehead coffee shop on Bank Street. All the same, my spiel was well received. I made three points in the presentation: that OpenStreetMap was a lot less complete than some make it out to be; that the OSM map of Ottawa needs a lot of work; and here’s what to do about it.

I suppose that I could make the slideshow available if you’re really interested, but my presentations tend to be talks illustrated by slides, rather than read-the-slides, so without me talking it through it’d be kind of confusing. But here’s the penultimate slide, which shows a screencap of OSM’s map of downtown Ottawa, with things that need fixing helpfully labelled.

Ottawa Mapping Party Presentation

You’ll be happy to know that many of these things have since been fixed.