Opensource and Javascript: Polymaps Used To Make PrettyMaps


SimpleGeo, geo cloud services and data provider, and Stamen, creators of many beautiful data visualizations, have teamed up to release Polymaps. Polymaps is an opensource Javascript mapping framework. It’s been on Github for a while, but they are finally announcing it.

Out of the gate, Stamen has also launched a great example application, PrettyMaps, combining Natural Earth, OSM and Flickr layers. The effect is, well, pretty. Here is the continental United States at zoom level 3:


And here is Los Angeles at zoom level 8:

los angeles

Stamen explains that they use the following data sources:

All the Flickr shapefiles rendered as a semi-transparent white ground on top of which all the other layers are displayed.

Urban areas from Natural Earth both as a standalone layer and combined with Flickr shapefiles for cities and neighbourhoods.

Road, highway and path data collected by the OpenStreetMap (OSM) project.


The creation of Prettymaps was much easier due to Polymaps and was almost entirely the handiwork of ex-Flickrite, now Stamenite Aaron Straup Cope. Previously, combining these layers together would have been possible with a GIS system or using custom flash, flex or silverlight code — none of which would have been viewable on an iOS device. PrettyMaps is still a bit too CPU-intensive for it to function well on mobile devices, but as Tom Carden (Stamen) put it in IM “at least there’s a path”.

This is not the first chunk of geo code that SimpleGeo has opensourced (just go check Github). They are in the business of selling geodata and geo cloud services. By releasing these tools they make it easier for companies without geoexpertise to get hooked on their services. As SimpleGeo opens up it’s market and takes on more customers we’ll see that happening. Along the way it’s a great benefit to the mapping and mobile commmunity.

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  • Andrew Mager

    Awesome post!

  • Pete Warden

    I love what the Stamen and SimpleGeo folks have done, it’s fantastic (and beautiful) work.

    If you’re interested in that sort of thing, I’ve had the project running for a few months now, also featuring HTML5/Canvas support for iOS devices (though it’s also a bit slow). It’s a different take on similar ideas, and I look forward to learning a lot from the Stamen/SimpleGeo folks’ approach.

  • Timmie

    where is the main difference or technical advantage over OPenlayers?

    Is in in the way that SVG is used for rendering?

  • Wai Yip Tung

    I like it. But where I can ask question? SimpleGEO’s blog don’t have comment. Is there a user community somewhere?

    The maps look pretty. But I don’t think I get the purpose of Polymaps right. I see an OpenSource alternative of mapping data and API emerging to compete with Google Map.

    OpenStreetMap Google street map
    Polymaps google map API (slippy map, overlay)
    geoJSON (+Polymaps + CSS) KML

    I am thinking in the right way? By the way, can polymaps render KML or its equivalent?

  • Wai Yip Tung

    I used angle bracket in my last post and they are eaten away. Here is my second try.

    OpenStreetMap — Google street map
    Polymaps — google map API (slippy map, overlay)
    geoJSON (+Polymaps + CSS) — KML