Dynamic Time-Travel Maps From MySociety and Stamen

london dynamic commute map

UK-based non-profit MySociety teamed up with Stamen Design to develop some innovative time-travel maps. The snapshot of the map that you see above shows where you can live in London with a commute between 30 to 60 minutes where the median house price is over £230, 000. As you adjust the sliders, the map changes in realtime letting you adjust the commute times from 0 up to 90 minutes and the housing price from 0 to £990,00. The Department of Transportation, who requested the work, is the map’s center (and basis for the commute times).

You can try out the map after the jump. They also made dynamic maps with the Olympic Stadium and the BBC as the center.

london commute map

These maps are an update of Chris Lightfoot’s 2006 Time Travel project. The focus of that project was how to present commute time data (see a static commute map of London with contour lines at half-hour intervals to the right). This version (2007) they focused on making them interactive. The mapping data comes from Open Street Map (converted from the Ordinance Survey data used in 2006) .

MySociety is a tech-centric non-profit that focuses on making websites for the civic good and teaching others about the internet. Some of their previous projects have had a more political bent to them. TheyWorkForYou was their first project. It’s a searchable site that provides British citizens a way to find out what is happening in the parliament. Their most recent site, FixMyStreet, provides neighborhoods with tools to discuss local problems.

To generate the maps MySociety screen scraped the Transport Direct website. At first they would query for the routes at each public transport stop. With this method Cardiff took 4 hours and 15 minutes to generate. Next they tried parallel screen scraping and got the time to generate Cardiff down to 45 minutes. They estimate that with a better algorithm they can get it down to 15 minutes. 15 minutes is a long time to wait for a map.

In the future they want to make these maps generated on the fly for users. This would require direct access to the data (Google Maps, MySociety estimates, with their lightning fast routing servers and direct access to the data would only take 2 minutes to generate Cardiff). To achieve this MySociety is considering building a client app or getting dedicated servers from Transport Direct (as this was a government-sponsored project anything is possible).

Time is a difficult thing to represent on maps, but will become more common in the future. Should it be a loop? (Like the Stamen project Trulia Hindsight, where 20th century housing data is shown (Radar post)) Or should it be sliders? (Like this project) Or more like a video? (Google Earth lets you “play” your GPS tracks.) We’ll explore this more at Where 2.0.

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