Every now and again I discover another local mapmaking company whose products are familiar to, even well-loved by, well, the locals, but not much known elsewhere: the A-Z maps and London; the Maine Atlas and Gazetteer; Kroll and Seattle; Wunnenberg and St. Louis; Sherlock and Winnipeg (that one I knew about, being from there). Add another company to that list: Purple Lizard Maps, which produces a line of outdoor recreation maps that focuses mostly (but not exclusively) on central Pennsylvania. The Center County Gazette talks to Michael Hermann, who founded Purple Lizard in 1997. [WMS]
An incident of map vandalism roiled the Internet last week. Users of several online services, including CitiBike, Foursquare and SnapChat, discovered that New York City had been relabelled “Jewtropolis” on the services’ maps: see coverage at Gizmodo, Mashable and TechCrunch. The problem was quickly traced to Mapbox, which provides maps to these services. Mapbox, understandably upset about the act of vandalism, soon figured out what the hell happened.
The problem was traced to OpenStreetMap, one of Mapbox’s data sources. On August 10 an OSM user renamed a number of New York landmarks, as well as New York itself, after a number of alt-right and neo-Nazi memes. The edits were quickly reverted and the user blocked—on OpenStreetMap. They nevertheless entered the Mapbox review pipeline, where they were, in fact, caught and flagged on the 16th, but a human editor mistakenly okayed the renaming of New York to Jewtropolis. A simple human error, but with a delayed fuse: the edit turned up on Mapbox’s public map two weeks later. When all hell broke loose on the 30th, the map was fixed within a few hours.
Vandalism of online maps isn’t a new thing: in 2015 Google ran into trouble when a series of juvenile map edits exposed the shortcomings of the Map Maker program’s moderation system and led to a temporary suspension of Map Maker (it closed for good in 2017) and an apology from Google. Anything involving user contributions needs a moderation system, and OpenStreetMap and Mapbox both have them. But moderation systems can and do still fail from time to time. (That’s a take on this incident that isn’t on Bill Morris’s list.)
Entrepreneur magazine profiles Peter Bellerby, the founder of globemaking company Bellerby and Company. We’ve seen a lot of Bellerby profiles over the past few years, but this one goes into more depth than most. The story of the company’s founding (Peter wanted to make a globe for his father’s 80th birthday, et cetera) is retold, but we get some more detail about the size and volume of its business today: “This year, the company should turn around about 750 globes, compared to 500 last year—and the current wait list stands between six months and two years depending on globe size. Revenue-wise, the company will likely net about 3 million pounds (close to $4 million) in 2018.” That’s … that’s something. [WMS]
Earlier this year Google Maps changed the terms of its API and in the process jacked up its prices, leaving web developers to consider other alternatives. These include (among others) OpenStreetMap, which posted a switching guide in June; Apple, which announced its API for websites that same month; and Here Maps, which (a) is still around1 and (b) has announced a freemium plan with reasonably generous transaction limits. As Engadget points out, Google’s trying to profit off its market dominance; its competitors, seeing an opening, are making their move. [Engadget]
Last month the MetroWest Daily News profiled Framington, MA map dealer Carole Spack of Original Antique Maps, whose path to the business sounds rather familiar: “Six years ago, she bought several 150-year-old maps of Worcester County showing towns that were later submerged when the area was flooded to create the Quabbin Reservoir, where she often hikes. Intrigued by their detailed evocation of a vanished time, Spack has since acquired 2,000 rare maps ranging from Colonial America to rural China all the way to hand-colored engravings of the ‘Geography of the Heavens’ by an obscure early-19th century astronomer.” [WMS]
It’s nice to see media coverage of a map publisher or store that doesn’t involve it going out of business. The Seattle Times looks at a local institution, the Kroll Map Company, which has been mapping the city and its environs for more than a century, and its current owner, John Loacker.
The survival of a company like Kroll is a small act of rebellion against the forces reshaping the city by the day. And yet lately, John has wondered what will become of the business his grandfather bought in 1920 and his father worked at for 72 years. John is also a co-owner of Metsker Maps, a retail store in Pike Place Market, but he leaves the day-to-day operations there to others. He is the sole owner of Kroll.
“I have to craft my exit,” he says.
MacVan General Manager Bob Stanley, one of two remaining employees of a company that once employed nearly 20 people, said this week he and owner Ken Field agonized for four months, trying to find way to keep the company alive.
“We were just looking for a path to stay open. We went through the books, but it just wasn’t going to happen. It (the business) just wasn’t paying for itself,” Stanley said. “I just want to thank our customers. We appreciate their loyalty. They have always been great to work with.”
MacVan is best known for “The Book,” its annual spiral-bound collection of detailed maps of the Colorado Springs area that has been a staple for real estate agents, delivery drivers, police and firefighters and even journalists. The company operates a retail store at 1045B Garden of the Gods Road and produces more than 40 different maps for cities along the Colorado Front Range and Western Slope, a telephone directory called the “Ute Pass Gold Book” for Teller County and parts of El Paso and Park counties as well as advertising and custom real estate maps.
MacVan has been in business since 1978. [MAPS-L]
Another piece on the various attempts to create detailed, high-definition maps for self-driving cars, this time from Bloomberg’s Mark Bergen, who views it through the prism of Google’s efforts in that space, and whether its competitors will be able to stop Google from dominating the high-definition mapping space the way it has come to dominate consumer maps.
There are, Bergen reports, two ways to make high-definition maps for self-driving cars:
The companies working on maps for autonomous vehicles are taking two different approaches. One aims to create complete high-definition maps that will let the driverless cars of the future navigate all on their own; another creates maps piece-by-piece, using sensors in today’s vehicles that will allow cars to gradually automate more and more parts of driving.
Alphabet is trying both approaches. A team inside Google is working on a 3-D mapping project that it may license to automakers, according to four people familiar with its plans, which have not previously been reported. This mapping service is different than the high-definition maps that Waymo, another Alphabet unit, is creating for its autonomous vehicles.
Much chatter on Twitter about a blog post criticizing OpenStreetMap that made it to the front page of Hacker News; problem is, said chatter hasn’t been linking to said blog post. Here it is: “Why OpenStreetMap is in Serious Trouble,” in which Serge Wroclawski argues that OSM has lost its way on a technical and management level:
Before I criticize the project, I want to state emphatically that I still believe wholeheartedly in the core principles of OpenStreetMap. We need a Free as in Freedom geographic dataset just as much today as we did in the past. When I wrote my article about OSM in 2012, self-driving cars and other services were still a dream. Today the importance of having a highly accurate, libre geographic dataset is more important than ever, and I support those working to make it happen.
That said, while I still believe in the goals of OpenStreetMap, I feel the OpenStreetMap project is currently unable to fulfill that mission due to poor technical decisions, poor political decisions, and a general malaise in the project. I’m going to outline in this article what I think OpenStreetMap has gotten wrong. It’s entirely possible that OSM will reform and address the impediments to its success—and I hope it does. We need a Free as in Freedom geographic dataset.
I do love me a good rant; and as an OSM contributor myself, I do recognize some of the problems Serge highlights, particularly the difficulties in importing data, moderating edits, and vandalism.
Since getting linked there is what drew attention to it, Hacker News comments (I know, I know) are here.
Previously: OpenStreetMap at the Crossroads.
The good news is that, in some ways, Mapzen’s founders built it to fail. “Part of the rules with Mapzen is that everything is open source and we only deal with open data,” says CEO Randy Meech. “Luckily, we’re staffed to help people stand things up on their own.” Users now have T minus 28 days to grab the info they need (or get Mapzen’s help to do it) and upload it to their own data portals, keeping it free and accessible.
The reason for the shutdown is still elusive:
At this point, the company’s coroner’s report is thin. Meech would not comment on the reason for the shuttering. The company is owned by a Samsung subsidiary focused on research and is funded by the South Korean company’s incubator. We do know that running a mapping company ain’t cheap. While Mapzen’s products are built on openly licensed data from OpenStreetMap, it adds valuable software tools to the mix for those who don’t know how to build their own or don’t have the time. Its tools help developers build aesthetically pleasing maps and equip them with search and routing services, while its staff curates, publishes, and creates data. It’s possible Samsung simply decided it didn’t have the money to compete or that it wasn’t worth the price tag.
The article goes on to point out that, Mapzen’s death notwithstanding, the mapping biz continues to be a hot, albeit expensive, sector. [Tyler Bell]
Bellerby & Co., the maker of expensive hand-made globes, is hiring again: this time they’re looking for a graphic designer/cartographer—a skill set more widely available than that for the apprentice globemaker they were looking for last year. They’re also looking for a woodworker to build the wood bases for their globes.
Mapzen announced today that they were shutting down at the end of January 2018.
Our hosted APIs and all related support and services will turn off on February 1, 2018. You will not be charged for API usage in December/January. We know this is an inconvenience and have provided a migration guide to similar services for our developer community. Our goal is to help as much as possible to ensure continuity in the services that you have built with us.
Fortunately, the core products of Mapzen are built entirely on open software and data. As a result, there are options to run Mapzen services yourself or to switch to other service providers.
No reason was given for the move.
Justin O’Beirne’s lengthy analyses of Google Maps and Apple Maps are always worth reading,1 and his latest is no exception. Looking at the rapid proliferation of buildings, areas of interest and other examples of Google’s Ground Truthing program, Justin discovers that Google’s buildings data are a product of its satellite imagery, its places of interest are a product of its Street View data, and its areas of interest (the orange-shaded areas that indicate business districts) are the result of combining those stores of data.
…so this makes AOIs a byproduct of byproducts[.]
This is bonkers, isn’t it?
Google is creating data out of data.
This is slightly more than Google’s competitors are able to match. As always, Justin’s analysis is worth reading in full, and comes complete with before/after animations that make his point visually clear.
Self-driving cars require insanely detailed maps in order to function. But, as The Drive’s Stephen Edelstein writes, “The Chinese government is blocking foreign companies from mapping its roads in great detail, according to a Financial Times report. The restrictions, which reportedly do not apply to Chinese firms, are being instituted in the name of national security. China is concerned about spying.” Mapping, geotagging, geographic surveys—all of these have been subject to Chinese government restrictions for many years (recall the trouble Google Maps has had operating in China), so this is more of an additional data point than an actual surprise. [Boing Boing/
Previously: The Business of Making Maps for Self-Driving Cars.
What happens when a Google Street View car meets its Bing equivalent? The Verge explains: “As it turns out, when two Google Street View and Bing cars pass each other, only one (in this case Google) will admit to it publicly. Like an embarrassed or jilted lover, Microsoft masks the memory of the Google encounter with a giant white rectangle in Bing maps. […] Google however, proudly shows off the Bing car in all its glory.”