Posts Tagged ‘splashmaps’

Open Data Yields Tangible Results – And Tangible Maps

In January of this year I made a hopeful prediction that 2013 would be the year of the tangible map.

This hope was prompted by the maps I saw at one of London’s geomob meetups in November of 2012, where I saw and, importantly for a tangible map, touched Anna Butler’s London wall map and a prototype of David Overton’s SplashMap.

The hopeful prediction was made as a result of literally getting my hands on one of Anna’s London maps and it’s a treasured possession, though still sadly needing a suitable frame before it can take pride of place on a wall at home.

But what of SplashMaps? In November 2012 the project was on Kickstarter and I was one of the investors in this most tangible of maps. In December 2012 Splashmaps met their funding targets and went into production and today, through the letterbox came my own, tangible, foldable, scrunchable and almost indestructible SplashMap of my local neighbourhood.

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Now all if this could be taken to be simply my crowing with delight over maps. But there’s a deeper context to all of these tangible maps. Both the London Wall Map and SplashMaps have come about due to one single thing … open data. The case has often been made, though equally as often misunderstood, that open data is an economic stimulus. As many people ask why should we give something away for free as ask for data to opened up to the public.

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Both of these maps wouldn’t have been financially possible without access to open data; the pre-open data era licensing costs and restrictions alone would have put paid to any startup opportunities an aspiring entrepreneur came up with. But in these maps, the proof of what open data can do has become very real, indeed very tangible.

Written and posted from home (51.427051, -0.333344)

2013 – The Year Of The Tangible Map And Return Of The Map As Art

Looking back at the conference talks I gave and the posts I wrote in 2012, two themes are evident.

The first theme is that while there’s some utterly gorgeous digital maps being produced these days, such as Stamen’s Watercolor, the vast majority of digital maps can’t really be classified as art. Despite the ability to style our own maps with relative ease, such as with Carto and MapBox’s TileMill, today’s maps tend towards the data rich, factual end of the map spectrum. Compare and contrast a regular digital map, on your phone, on your tablet or on a web site in your laptop’s browser with a map such as Hemispheriu[m] ab aequinoctiali linea, ad circulu[m] Poli Arctici and you’ll see what I mean (and if you don’t browse the Norman. B. Leventhal Map Center’s Flickr stream you really should).

Hemispheriu[m] ab aequinoctiali linea, ad circulu[m] Poli Arctici

The second theme is that despite the abundance of maps that surround us these days, a digital map is almost by definition an intangible thing. It’s a view port, hand crafted by a digital cartographer, on a mass of hidden, underlying spatial data. It’s ephemeral. Switch off your phone, your tablet, your sat nav or your computer and the map … vanishes. Until the next time you hit the “on” button, the electrons flow again and the map re-appears. But it’s still intangible, despite the irony that a lot of maps these days are interacted with via a touch interface; we tap, poke, prod and swipe our maps, but they’re not really there.

But maybe 2013 will be both the year of the tangible map and the year of the map as art. It might be if the closing days of 2012 are anything to go by.

On December 8th, 2012, David Overton’s SplashMaps made their funding total on Kickstarter. A SplashMap is a real outdoor map, derived from (digital) open data, but rendered on a light and weatherproof fabric. It’s a tangible map in the truest sense of the word; one you can fold up or even crumple up and stick in your pocket, safe in the knowledge that it won’t fade away. There’s no “off” switch for this map. As one of the SplashMap funders, I’ll have a chance to get my hands on one in the literal sense of the word in a couple of months, once they hit production. So more about this map in a future post.

The other map that is both 100% tangible and 100% art is the awesomely talented Anna Butler’s Grand Map Of London. A modern day map of the UK’s capital city, digital in origin, lovingly hand drawn in the style of the 1800s and printed, yes, printed on canvas. It’s a map worthy of the phrase “the map as art” and when I first saw one and handled one in late November of 2012 I wanted one, right there and then.

Grand Map Of London

And then, on Saturday, December 29th 2012, Mark Iliffe and I met Anna for a coffee in the Espresso Bar of the British Library on London’s Euston Road and out of the blue, Anna handed over a long cardboard tube containing my own, my very own, Grand Map Of London. People nearby looked on, slightly non-plussed as I crowed like a happy baby, promptly unrolled the map over the table and just looked and touched. The next half an hour or so pretty much vanished as I pored over and luxuriated in the map, lost in the details and revelling in the map under my hands. Truly this is a tangible map which is itself art.

I’ve often said, half in truth, half in jest, that I’d love a big, as big as I can get, map of London on my wall, probably one of Stamen’s Watercolor maps. But Anna’s Grand Map Of London will be getting a suitable frame and sitting on my wall, just as soon as my local framing shop opens after the New Year break.

Grand Map Of London

Two maps to wrap up 2012. Both tangible, both digital in origin, both made for looking, touching and feeling. One clever, innovative and utterly practical and one a map you can keep coming back to and which reveals more artistic cleverness each time you look at it.

2013 is shaping up to be a “year of the map” in ways I’d never had hoped for at the start of 2012.

Written and posted from home (51.427051, -0.333344)

Of W3G, AGI And Other Geographical Acronyms

In November 2008 I was still working for Yahoo and a fledgling meetup event for people interested in maps, location, geo and mobile started up in London. It was, and still is, called GeoMob. I was at GeoMob’s very first event, talking about Yahoo’s Fire Eagle location brokering platform. Four years later and it was great to go back, see GeoMob still flourishing despite a brief hiatus in 2010, and meet up with a lot of old friends as well as meet some new ones.

And what an evening it was. Truly a veritable feast of maps. David Overton spoke about SplashMaps, his Kickstarter funded project to produce lightweight printable fabric maps for outdoors.

I didn’t think it was possible to map happiness but apparently it is and George MacKerron showed how with the aptly entitled Mappiness project.

Staying with tangible maps, Anna Butler from Wellingtons Travel wowed the audience with her lovingly hand drawn map of the centre of London, styled after the glorious illustrated maps of yesteryear. Almost all the audience immediately added a copy of her map to their Christmas lists en masse.

Awesome hand-drawn map of London is awesome #geomob

And then there was James Cheshire who, along with Ollie O’Brien, runs Spatial Analysis and they’d produced Lives On The Line, a map of the life expectancy of Londoners along the path of the London Underground lines. Not only maps, but Tube maps. What more can you want?

Finally, standing between the audience and a thirst quenching GeoBeer or two, it was my turn. This wasn’t my usual talk. No mapporn. Not even that many pithy or wryly amusing images. Just some raising of awareness for the W3G conference and the AGI. As usual, the slide deck is below and the notes follow after the break.

Read On…