Year of the Open Map

Various people have been throwing about phrases like “year of the Open Map” and “rolling your own map tiles” recently. This has been in response to the announcement at the end of October that Google Maps was to charge for usage. From 1 January Google has been charging for the Google Maps API service when more than the limit of 25,000 map “hits” are made in a day, a situation that many websites such as travel firms and estate agents will easily face. Over Christmas property search engine Nestoria came out with the news that they were switching in a blog posting by Ed Freyfogle entitled Why (and how) we’ve switched away from Google Maps which gives some very good background reasoning, and the route taken (OSM to MapQuest to Leaflet to Mapstraction). On Jan 9 Wired picked up on this and carried an extensive article entitled Open Source Maps Gain Ground as Google Paywall Looms which has a pretty good analysis of the OpenStreetMap, Mapquest and Bing/Microsoft positions in all of this. Following on from that there has been a really excellent post entitled Good bye, Google Maps… thanks for all the fish from Sebastian Delmont (which rather deliciously is in Google+). This explains in detail why his company StreetEasy have gone down the  OpenStreetMap, TileMill, MapBox and Leaflet route for their map switch. What is even more useful is the comprehensive exploration of the options and the fantastic number of useful URLs. An earlier blog posting from Fubra also covers some alternative maps such as Bing, Ovi and OS OpenSpace. So, if you are interested in what the options are then read these posts. If you’re in London, why not go to the next #geomob event on 16 February where Ed Freyfogle will be giving a talk about their move away from Google Maps.
UPDATE: Although my original take was on availability and deployment of online maps, Steven Feldman’s blog post on “The beginning of the end of Free?” is worth a look as it goes a little more into the economics.
UPDATE: The OpenStreetMap community (coordinated by Richard Fairhurst) has compiled a switch2osm website which clearly explains the whys and hows of changing.

New Year, New Activities

Coming to the end of 2011 and time to welcome in the new year. Just a short post to announce a new page on this website and plans for 2012. There is now an Events page, which will be showing events to chime with the theme of neocartography. Please take a look at the events and participate if you can. Also, please use this arena for publicising your own event if it is appropriate. There is a link on the page for submitting information. Further pages for research and publications are currently being developed, and will be available shortly. We are actively working on plans for Commission sessions in 2012 as well, details soon. Suggestions and offers will also also gratefully received.

So, it just remains for me to wish you a Happy Neo-Year!

Mapping Showcase

The Mapping Showcase at the Emirates Stadium on 1st December was a great event, if a rather long day. The keynote presentation entitled “Neocartography: the crowd and the cloud” seemed to go down well, with some positive comments afterwards. As promised the slides and a low-fi audio file are available. The Society of Cartographers stand was well manned and looking good with the two new banners. The SoC team was myself, Steve Eglinton, Miles Irving, Jenny Kynaston and Claire Iveson, taking turns to man the stand, visitor others, and watch the keynotes. We had a steady stream of visitors throughout the day, and some interesting contacts and conversations. We spent time scanning badge QR codes, and giving out details of SoC, and free Bulletins and Newsletters, plus details of the next SoC conference in Sept at UCL. I also had handouts on the ICA Commission on Neocartography to distribute to interested parties. We also doubled up as an OpenStreetMap showcase. Robert Scott and Gregory Marler helped me talk up the benefits of the project and demonstrate some of the features on our laptops (oh and plug Frederik, Jochen and my OSM book, which we had a sample of for viewing). A little disappointed that I couldn’t persuade anyone to go out and add even more OSM data around the stadium, but it was pouring with rain nearly all day. At the end of the day Steven, Miles, Gregory and I were part of the ‘Society of Topcon OpenStreetMap Cartographers’ team that got absolutely tonked at the Londonist quiz. I never knew I knew so little about the city I live in!

Having got this event behind me it is time to act on all the things that we discussed in Vienna at the recent very succesfull ICA Commission Chairs meeting. For Neocartography this will be twofold. Firstly, organising a full day workshop in London in September, and also a spring evening neocartography ‘showcase’ event (again probably in London). Any suggestions for other events are of course welcome, particularly if you can help coordinate, and can help by hosting elsewhere. Secondly, we will also be working on adding three new features to the Commission website shortly. They are: an events page, a research groups page, and a publications page.

UPDATE: Extra link about the Apple “schematics patent” point thrown in at end of the keynote. The patent application. A couple of blog comments on that patent, from Ken Field and Ed Parsons.

Upcoming meetings

Looking forward to going to Vienna for a couple of days later this week. It is for the ICA Commission Chairs meeting on 24/25th November. It should be a great gathering of the clan. We will be going through ICA expectations of us and also outlining our individual and group plans for the coming year. Also a chance to catch up with my mentor Menno-Jan Kraak, and also hopefully have in-depth discussions with co-vice-chair Manuela Schmidt. We will be discussing forthcoming activities for the commission. If you have any suggestions please feel free to put them in a comment to this post and they will be considered.

Next month I am giving one of the keynotes at the Mapping Showcase at the Emirates Stadium, London on 1st December. The title of my presentation is “Neocartography: the crowd and the cloud”. Full details are at If you are within reach it looks like being a really good event, being part of the London Mapping Festival. As part of the same event I am working with a couple of OpenStreetMap collaborators on a “get out that door and map” activity, which will be hosted by Society of Cartographers (ie via our stand). We are getting sections of the OpenStreetMap printout made for the immediate area around the Emirates and will ask people to add geodata to it, and show them how easy it is to edit the map/database. There is loads of data on shops, pubs, even house addresses that can be added by doing a small amount of survey work. Hoping to show the power of crowdsourcing to some of the delegates.

A conference, but not as I know it ….

AGI Conference, East Midlands Conf Centre, Nottingham University 20-22nd Sept
This was the second time I have attended the AGI conference, having previously presented a paper there in 2009. Unfortunately, I couldn’t make the w3g unconference the day beforehand, which sounded really good [see: vicchi’s blog post and GIScussions blog post]. So, an early start for a quick dash up the M1 for the 10-15am start. Just to show that SoC isn’t the only conference to suffer from the keynote blues, AGI actually had 2 out of the 3 initial keynotes pull out and had to do some rapid re-organising. AGI is quite big (440 delegates I believe this year) and has 5 parallel strands, which makes session choices hard. Fortunately, on this occasion the rooms were VERY close (unlike ICA in Santiago!) and the session chairs were briefed to work hard to keep to time and allow very brief changeovers WITHIN sessions, which was a blessing.

The first really good presentation was Bob Barr on the Public Data Corporation – important and good enough to have been a keynote in my view. I then attended 3 papers in the “safeguarding our future” strand – by presenters from British Transport Police, Greenspace Scotland and Snowflake Software. I had some issues with the symbology used by the police and the greenspacers. In the police case it was of their using heatmaps (with traditional circular spread as size increases) for what is basically linear data (following the railway lines). With the greenspace map it was the way they had kept to a limited palette (mainly green for obvious reasons) for their land classification, which looked fine and dandy in the key but which made for difficulties in interpretation on the map itself.

The highlights of day one for me were the two papers I attended in the “open alternative” session. Steven Feldman gave his take on how authoritive the crowd can be, before shamelessly plugging his upcoming project, which he is working on with the Centre for Geospatial Science, University of Nottingham (OSM-GB). Following this was a tour de force by Mark Illiffe, which won the audience vote for best conference presentation. Entitled “When Gov 2.0 Doesn’t Exist: Mapping Services in the Developing World”, it detailed work he had done in slums in Kenya, amongst other places – and was very thought-provoking on both the type of things being done (particularly in enabling data and knowledge gathering WITH the inhabitants) and their effect.

After the formal sessions came the soapbox, and the party, neither of which I’d attended last time as I was just a day visitor. The soapbox is basically a chance for extroverts to rant and swear a lot. It is held in the bar (with some free beers to lubricate the audience) and speakers have a 5 minute slot with slides provide in advance with fixed timings – 15 slides with 20 secs timings I think it was. You obviously have to have your speaking synched to the slides, else it can get very lonely out there. And being funny helps. Overall I was disappointed, I was expecting a funnier and more raucous affair somehow. The party was also an eye-opener, and showed the AGI’s corporate roots. There were more free beers, good hot buffet food and entertainment that I understand is standard at some corp events – a huge Scalextric set to race on, a bucking bronco machine to try out, and free gambling tables. I had an early night.

The first keynote of the second day was also one of my highlights. SoC president Danny Dorling gave a masterfull presentation on what he chose to call “twisted” maps. It was a comprehensive view of why using distorted map views (among them obviously the worldmapper cartograms, but many others I had not seen before) can be useful in analysing data [see: Ben Hennig’s blog for samples]. He was followed on by Vanessa Lawrence (DG and CEO of Ordnance Survey) who is always good value for money. Her enthusiasm and belief in the contribution that geography can make, combined with her pride in the OS were very evident. It was a very wide ranging talk covering developments in mapping through to the way OS is adapting to the era of Open Data.

The next session included what I thought were two of the weaker presentations I had seen. Maybe I was looking for something radically new, or was just conferenced-out. This all changed with the presentation by Warren Vick (Europa Technologies), which was boldly entitled “Improve your cartography – 10 tips for better on-screen maps”. There is not room to list the 10 tips here, but what I particularly liked was his resource links, some of which are were: Kuler – for generating color themes:; Stripe generator:; Colorblindness simulator:

The conference concluded with the 6th and 7th keynote speakers, both of whom were very engaging. Firstly, Kimberley Kowal (Lead Digital Curator at the BL) gave a beautifully illustrated talk using some of the fascinating maps from the British Library collection as her signposts. Finally, Gary Gale (Nokia), who presented at SoC Manchester, entertained with an amusing slide deck. His message was about place, context and the next generation of smarter location based applications.

My overall impression was of an interesting conference – both similar and yet very different to SoC. I am sure there is much that SoC members can give to the AGI community (and vice versa) and I encourage you to consider this as a conference to attend in future years. And there is certainly space for more “cartography” presentations to be given there. Hopefully I have highlighted some of the things of interest to forward looking cartographers, but as noted I felt it was missing any earth-shattering presentations with any particular WOW factor.

UPDATE: Steven Feldman’s blog on AGI conf [part 1part 2]. Conf twitter stream. Conf presentations and papers.

The year in cartography reviewed

Now that the Commission is in place the plan is for myself and the vice-chairs to disseminate information that meets the aims we have set out. We will be using this blog/website to link to resources, to compile both a bibliography and a research listing, and to list events linked to the Commission or that further it’s aims.

This post highlights some of the content of a presentation I gave this week at the Society of Cartographers annual conference, entitled “The year in cartography reviewed”. The presentation was a personal reflection on the last year, and highlighted just some of the developments in the mapping world that intrigued or inspired me.

The content ranged from Resources (Mapbox and Shaded Relief Archive), through Blogs (Mapping London), to Visualisations (Decade of news visualised), and Threads (Typographic Maps).

UPDATE: All the URLs from “The year in cartography reviewed“.
More from the conference (inc photos, videos):
Harry Wood’s blog post on the conference