Open source tools look to make mapping easier

The barrier to entry for mapping is getting lower thanks to new platforms.

The rapid evolution of tools for mapping open data is an important trend for the intersection of data, new media, citizens and society. Whether it’s mapping issues, mapping broadband access or mapping crisis data, geospatial technology is giving citizens and policy makers alike new insight into the world we inhabit. Below, earthquake data is mapped in Japan.

Earlier today, Washington-based Development Seed launched cloud-based hosting for files created with their map design suite, MapBox.

“We are trying to radically lower the barrier of entry to map making for organizations and activists,” said Eric Gundersen, the founder of Development Seed.

Media organizations and nonprofits have been making good use of Development Seed’s tools. MapBox was used to tell stories with World Bank data. The Department of Education broadband maps were designed with Development Seed’s open source TileMill tool and are hosted in the cloud. The Chicago Tribune also used TileMill to map population change using open data from the United States census.

Maps from the MapBox suite can be customized as interactive embeds, enabling media, nonprofits and government entities to share a given story far beyond a single static web page. For instance, the map below was made using open data in Baltimore that was released by the city earlier this year:

“This isn’t about picking one person’s API,” said Gundersen. “This is working with anyone’s API. It’s your data. It’s your tiles. If we do this right, we’re about to have a lot of good GIS folks who will be able to make better web maps. There’s a lot of locked up data that could be shared.”

Making maps faster with Node.js

After making its mark in open source development with Drupal, Development Seed is now focusing on Node.js.

Why? Speed matters. “Data projects really are custom and they need more of a framework that focuses on speed,” said Gundersen. “That’s what Node.js delivers.”

Node.js is a relatively recent addition to the development world that has seen high-profile adoption at Google and Yahoo. The framework was created by Ryan Dahl (@ryah). Jolie O’Dell covered what’s hot about Node.js this March, focusing on its utility for real-time web apps.

(If you’re interested in getting up and running with Node.js, O’Reilly has a preview of an upcoming book on the framework.)


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