Geographic

Adding more to your maps with marine charts

I haven't posted a lot over the past year about what I've been working on, but I've spent a lot of time building a web application that tracks ships around the world using positions relayed by satellite. I'll post more on the project soon, but for now I just want to share one of the ways that we're improving the usefulness of the maps as part of this project.

At their heart, the maps in the application are based on OpenStreetMap data and satellite imagery from MapBox, but when your clients are mostly looking at their vessels in seas and oceans around the world, traditional web mapping data doesn't really give enough context. Marine charts can fill in those big blue gaps and aid with using the map.

Map of the Isle of Man with Marine Charts overlaid
Map of the Isle of Man with Marine Charts overlaid
Map data © OpenStreetMap & MapBox, Marine charts © Crown Copyright, 2013. All Rights reserved. Licence no. EMS-EK001. Not to be used for navigation.

MarineFIND - with whom I've been working with to deliver this project - provide marine charts in various formats, including as a tile map service or web map service for clients who are looking to add charts to their own applications. The charts are made available either individually in their original form, or joined together to form an almost seamless detailed chart of the world. The combined chart layer cuts the landmass out, leaving them transparent, allowing the layer to be used on top of satellite imagery or other maps.


Map label overlay

Satellite labelling solution

Combining two raster datasets - the merged charts and the OpenStreetMap maps - into a single map causes some issues when it comes to labelling. Especially around coastal areas, labels from OpenStreetMap may be obscured when overlaying the marine charts.

This can be overcome to some extent by showing the charts as semi-opaque (see left), but for the satellite data we found another way of doing it (see right). Starting with an unlabelled satellite imagery layer from MapBox (which can be coloured to your liking), we then add the marine charts, and finally a separate MapBox Streets layer showing just line data and labels, meaning that any overlapping labels will be shown on top of the charts as expected.

If you want to find out more about using charts for your own applications, please feel free to get in touch, or contact MarineFIND for information about licensing.

Kaart Çheerey - a Manx language map of the world

Kaart Çheerey - a Manx language map of the world
A Manx language map of the world - kaart.im

The month of September has been renamed to Maptember this year because of the number of geographic conferences that are going on. With the thought of a month of maps ahead, I decided to make a new map: a Manx language map of the world.

The map - known as a kaart çheerey in Manx - displays continents, countries and oceans that have been documented on the Manx language Wikipedia and visualises them as a browsable map which can be accessed at kaart.im.

My great grandparents were some of the last native speakers of the Manx language, and the language lost its last native speaker in 1974. In an effort to re-introduce the language to the island, Manx has been taught in schools on the Isle of Man since at least the early 1990s. Some children on the island are brought up as native Manx speakers (in addition to English) at the only Manx language school, Bunscoill Ghaelgagh. Manx translations can often be seen on road signs and other official signage, and can be heard on radio broadcasts and at the annual Tynwald Day ceremony.

I learned a bit of Manx at school, though not much of it has stuck with me. Because of that, I struggled a little to find all the names I wanted from the Manx Wikipedia, and I ended up simply searching for each country and seeing what was returned as the top result (or near the top). Often the names resemble the English version - especially if read out in a bit of a Manx accent - so it was usually obvious which article referred to the country. For example, Germany becomes Yn Ghermaan, Finland becomes Finnlynn and Canada becomes Yn Chanadey. Some smaller island nations didn't appear to have articles about them, but that there was an article for most countries in the world still struck me as quite impressive, for a language that is spoken fluently by such a small number of people.

The cartography on kaart.im could do with some tweaks still, but hopefully the map will be useful for anyone curious about this language from the heart of the British Isles. If you see any mistakes on the map, please let me know in the comments.

I'll likely be tweeting geographic things more often than usual this month @dankarran and may blog a little about the Society of Cartographers and FOSS4G conferences that I'll be attending as well.

A look at the OS OpenSpace API

OS OpenSpace Overview map
OS OpenSpace Overview map (© Crown Copyright)

This week I've spent a bit of time trying out the Ordnance Survey OpenSpace web mapping API for one of the projects I'm working on, and thought it'd be good to share some initial thoughts on it.

OpenSpace provides free access to a selection of Ordnance Survey maps for use in web projects. It was first released in 2008 as a way for non-commercial projects to use OS mapping, but has since widened its remit to allow commercial services to use the maps as well.

For a number of reasons, the OpenSpace API is different to other APIs I've worked with, and I think most of those differences are due to the fact that the API is produced by a national mapping agency rather than an international community or a corporation with international interests. In contrast to the other APIs that usually have at least some level of international mapping, you see at first glance with the OpenSpace overview map that it is focused solely on the United Kingdom.

This initial map, showing a shaded terrain view of the UK, ends just west of the border between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland, leaving the west coast of Ireland off the map completely. The rest of the world is just white pixels (no dragons!). Looking at this map, I can't help but feel that filling the space surrounding the UK with a bit of sea and at least basic land outlines would help with initial impressions.

As you zoom in to the map, you get served an OS map product most suited to each zoom level, from overview maps all the way down to maps that show simplified building outlines (see the list of layers for details). Each of the map products usually shows for two or three zoom levels before switching to a more appropriate one.

As the maps have been built over the years as discreet products, each one has its own distinctive style that was designed for a particular purpose (e.g. navigating the motorway network, finding your way around cities, or walking in the countryside), and was usually designed to be used as a print product rather than on-screen. Some of the newer products and layers in the OpenSpace API have been built specifically for the digital age as maps come to be used differently than in the past.

OS OpenSpace Overview map
Overview map (© Crown Copyright)
OS MiniScale map
MiniScale (© Crown Copyright)
OS 1:250k map
1:250,000 map (© Crown Copyright)

To me, the overview layers don't feel like they have been thought out as well as you might expect from a national mapping agency, with place name labelling appearing on the second and third zoom levels in a way that doesn't look very visually appealing, along with the cut-off edges that I mentioned earlier. Zoom in beyond those layers though, and you see the nice MiniScale map which is, as described by the OS, a clear and uncluttered national map. After a couple of levels of the MiniScale map, you switch to the 1:250,000 map that's designed to show towns, major roads, railway stations, and some places of interest. In London and other cities it can be quite overpowering, but elsewhere it can give a good overview.

OS 1:50,000 map
1:50,000 map (© Crown Copyright)
OS Vectormap District map
VectorMap District (© Crown Copyright)
OS StreetView map
StreetView map (© Crown Copyright)

The 1:50,000 map was designed as a printed map for leisure use. It looks good in cities and is like a work of art in rural areas. It's the last of the print-focused map layers before switching to map products that were designed specifically for the web. VectorMap District is a background map that you can overlay your own information on without it being drowned out by bright colours and too much information. The StreetView layer isn't as subtle but also leaves enough space to visualise your own information on top of.

Overall, there's a lot of variation between each of these map products, so combining them into a zoomable map doesn't create the seamless user experience that other online maps aim to. This may be something that improves over time, but as a set of products that are available freely as part of OS OpenData they don't directly make money for the Ordnance Survey, so progress may be slow.

I'm still planning to use OS OpenSpace for the project I'm working on, but I'll likely be using only a few of the more detailed layers that are suitable for background mapping, and custom building some less detailed, lighter maps for the smaller scales.

If you want to browse the OpenSpace maps, I've put together a quick OS OpenSpace map page over on the Geobits site.

Google Map Maker vs OpenStreetMap in the UK

Earlier this week Google announced that their Map Maker product was being launching in the UK. Map Maker lets users make changes to Google's popular Maps service, helping Google improve their map data with the assistance of the crowd. The product has been around since 2008, originally available only in countries that didn't really have any map data, and later expanding into countries that already had good coverage but could be improved with additional information.

Map Maker works in a similar way to the OpenStreetMap project (which started around 2006) in that they both let people edit the details on their respective map, but there are some noticeable differences between Map Maker and OpenStreetMap.

(I've been using and contributing to OpenStreetMap since the early days of the project, so I'm going to be biased towards it, but I think both Map Maker and OSM have things going for them.)

User base
As probably the most widely used map in the world, Google Maps has a large number of people looking at their maps for local information. Most of them have local knowledge about an area, and a very small percentage of them may want to help improve their local maps for their own benefit and for others. On the other hand, OpenStreetMap's user base is much smaller (though has been growing quickly for years), and for the most part consists only of those people who want to help build the maps. Both Google Maps and OpenStreetMap can be embedded into other websites, but the end users of those sites are unlikely to care about making updates to the map, it's only people who use Google Maps or OpenStreetMap directly who'd do that.

Editing a place in Google Maps means that your information is currently going to be seen by many more casual users than if you were to edit OpenStreetMap, but with the inclusion of OpenStreetMap data in many other projects (like Apple Maps, MapQuest, MapBox) there are also massive advantages to making sure the information is up to date in there too. If you're promoting your business, you should definitely make sure to add it to OpenStreetMap as well.

Moderation
With any service where you're giving lots of unknown people a chance to share information that is visible to the public, you're likely to get people vandalising that information, whether it be accidentally, for a bit of fun, or for any other reason. Google Map Maker has a moderation feature which stops all edits being added to the map automatically, and only lets them through after they've been vetted by trusted users. OpenStreetMap doesn't have up-front moderation, but has tools in place to let users keep an eye on areas they know. Both approaches have their merits and disadvantages.

Editing interface and user experience
Google Map Maker welcome screenThe interface to Google Map Maker is designed to be easy to access when you're looking at a map (look out for the 'edit in Map Maker' link in the bottom right corner of the map) and makes it as simple as possible for people to add new places, edit existing ones (accurate business information is what Google is hoping for here), add roads, and review other peoples' edits. The interface is perhaps a bit more intuitive than OpenStreetMap might be for a new user at the moment, but some of that is because it has to cater for less technical users. OpenStreetMap is making efforts to improve this initial user experience too though, with improvements to the website and in particular the development of the new iD editor which aims to make editing simpler.

Using the maps and map data
Both Google Maps and OpenStreetMap can be embedded into your own website to show the location of your business, or to overlay whatever other information you'd like to display. With Google Maps you can change some of the styling, and choose to hide some of the information (with some technical know how), but you never have full control over what you're showing. If you want to show where your business is without also promoting your competitors, you're out of luck. With OpenStreetMap however, you can have complete control over what you show and what you don't, especially if you use a service like MapBox to customise your maps, or download any one of a number of opensource tools to build your maps exactly as you like.

Any information that you add into Google is owned by Google, and shown on a service that could in theory be withdrawn at any time (see Google Reader). Any information you add into OpenStreetMap is licensed freely for people to reuse as they like, so if you're adding information about your business into OSM, it's got the potential to be promoted much more widely than if it's just in Google Maps. The information in OSM will always be available to use as it's not dependent on any one commercial entity.

So, which should I use?
Personally, I'm happy to add some information into Google Maps, such as if I'm helping to promote a local business, but I'll also make sure that information is mirrored (and bettered) in OpenStreetMap. If I'm going to add in any sizable chunk of information, I'll just add that into OpenStreetMap as adding it into Google would be doing work for them for free without being able to reuse that information myself.

As an example, the maps below show Foxdale in the Isle of Man, in both Google Maps and OpenStreetMap. I help out with the online bits for some self-catering farm cottages in the village, so I've added their location and a bit of detail around the farm into Google Maps, but if you look in OpenStreetMap you'll see a lot more detail for the whole village as well.

Foxdale looks a bit bare in Google Maps, but check it out in OpenStreetMap:

Map of Foxdale, Isle of Man on OpenStreetMap

If this post has inspired you to add your business information into OpenStreetMap, check out this quick guide to adding your first point.

Presenting Bomb Sight at geomob

Last week I presented a talk on the Bomb Sight project at the first geomob meetup of the year. I posted the slides on SlideShare afterwards, but I'll add some more narrative here in case you missed the presentation and want to find out more about the project.

Bomb Sight was a year long academic project to map the London Blitz Bomb Census, funded by JISC with the support of the National Archives and the University of Portsmouth. The project team was led by Dr Catherine (Kate) Jones of the University of Portsmouth, detailed knowledge of the archive information provided by Andrew Janes from the National Archives, the web app built by Patrick Weber of Location Insight Ltd, the mobile app by me (Geobits Ltd) and the design of both by Jasia Warren.

The Blitz was a period of London's history that saw prolonged bombing with high explosive bombs during 1940 and 1941. A million houses were damaged or destroyed in London alone, and many other UK cities suffered a similar fate. More bombing continued later in World War II with the arrival of self-propelled V1 and V2 bombs.

The Bomb Sight project used maps from the Blitz Bomb Census Survey which were compiled by the Ministry of Home Security to give an overall picture of where bombs fell across the UK. There are a lot of maps held by the National Archives that relate to WWII bombing of London and other cities, and because we only had a limited amount of time, the project is only covering the area around London (referred to then as Civil Defence Region 5) and for the period of 7 October 1940 - 6 June 1941. The Blitz started in London a month before this, on 7 September, but mapping of bomb locations by the Ministry of Home Security only began on 7 October. We have also included data from the first night of the Blitz, which comes from London Fire Brigade records. The maps were previously only available to access in their original form in the Reading Room at the National Archives, but the Bomb Sight project has now made them available to citizen researchers, students and academics who want to explore the maps.

The main features of the project have been creating digital maps of the Bomb Census, digitising bomb location data from these, analysing the information within various geographical boundaries, combining the information with geolocated stories and photos from the time, creating a web mapping application to explore the information, and creating a mobile application to help people explore bomb locations while they are out and about in London.

The maps for the project came from two collections held at the National Archives. The first set of maps (HO193/13) shows bombs that fell over night during the eight month period from 7 October 1940 - 6 June 1941 without any additional information to show when each bomb fell during that period. We used 35 of these map sheets to cover the London area. The second set of maps (HO193/01) details the bombs that fell on a day by day basis, using colour to depict the day of the week, and different symbols to show the type of bomb that fell. Due to the large number of these map sheets (over 500) we just selected nine of them that show bombing for the week between 7 - 14 October 1940. Each of these maps was then photographed, loaded into a GIS package and georectified to match its geography up with a modern map.

Manually digitising all of the bomb locations from the aggregate maps provided the landing sites of 31,373 bombs, 28,325 of which fell within the current day boundaries of Greater London.

Visualising all of these points on a zoomed out map shows a mass of red dots covering the London area. We investigated some alternative ways of visualising the data at this scale (such as a heat map), but we decided this method helped to convey the impact of The Blitz on London as a whole. The image was one that was widely used by the media when reporting the project.

The website brings together the various datasets (first day of the Blitz, first week of mapping, 8 months of mapping) overlaid on modern OpenStreetMap data or on the original map images (see the layers icon in the top right of the map and click '1940s Bomb Maps' to enable them). You can explore the map by panning around, search for a location you're interested in, or browse information within various geographical boundaries using the 'Explore London' menu. When you are zoomed in to the map you can click on any of the markers to view more information about the bomb as well as some contextual information.

Each digitised bomb has its own information page (e.g. this one near Bank Station) showing the type of bomb, a map of its location and others around it, a current day address for the location, stories from locals mentioning nearby places, and a selection of nearby photos from the time. The photos came from the Imperial War Museum archives, where they are provided in an easily searchable format and with a licence to use them free for non-commercial purposes.

The example bomb information page shown in the presentation was for a bomb that landed near Bank station. I think this bomb is probably the one that The Register claimed was missing from the map in their article London Blitz bomb web map a hit-and-miss affair, but it's difficult to be certain.

There are a number of considerations around accuracy that should be taken into account when dealing with these maps. The original maps were an aggregation of data that was coming in from various sources, presumably of varying levels of accuracy and precision due to the sheer amount of damage that each attack would cause. The base maps would potentially have had accuracy issues as well, especially around the edges, where one sheet meets another, and over the years the paper may have warped slightly. There is then the digitisation process, which can introduce errors and inaccuracies during the georectification of the maps and also while digitisation of each point, which is converted from the original pen mark to a pair of coordinates near the centre of the mark.

As part of the digitisation process, the location of each bomb was reverse-geocoded to determine the nearest street address, to help give some context to the data, and to assist with searching. Looking up a historic location using a modern dataset can give some incorrect results at times, whether its because the bomb didn't actually fall where we think it did (see the note about accuracy above) or the road name has changed name over time, including as old buildings have been knocked down to make way for new developments (e.g. bomb at More London Place).

The technology behind the website is all open source, with PostgreSQL/PostGIS as the database, GeoServer to provide WFS and tiled WMS interfaces to the data, Leaflet and OpenStreetMap for the mapping, Django/GeoDjango to build the dynamic website and Bootstrap to provide a responsive user interface framework suitable for desktop, tablet and mobile devices. The website sits behind the CloudFlare content delivery network (CDN), which caches all of the pages and map data from the site and serves them from their own servers located closest to the end user, meaning that the load on our server is much reduced.

Bomb Sight Android appAs well as the mobile-friendly website, we built a mobile application (currently available for Android and hopefully for iOS in the near future) which replicated some of the mapping features and also added an Augmented Reality interface to help explore the data in the context of your own surroundings. The application was built using the Android SDK, Phonegap to provide a framework for cross-platform development, Leaflet and OpenStreetMap for mapping, and the WIkitude SDK for Augmented Reality functionality that allows you to see bomb locations overlaid on what your camera is seeing in front of you. If you want to find out more, you may also be interested in my post on choosing an AR library for Android, a technical overview, or a walkthrough of the prototype. There are some screenshots posted here too.

The outcomes of the Bomb Sight project were the georeferenced bomb maps, providing a digital record of an important event in the history of London and the country, the sharing of all of the data with the National Archives to help reduce use of the original paper maps and aid with their preservation, the opening up of maps that were previously only accessible if you were able to visit the National Archives, making the information available to a wider audience and providing a geographic framework for the study of the impact of bombing on the social and economic climate.

The media response to the project was phenomenal, and the initial response completely overwhelming, as we struggled to keep the site up and running under the immense traffic (see my post on scaling from 40 visitors a day to 6 every second).

The project is officially at an end, but there are a few things that are still to come as we find the time to work on them. In the next couple of months, we will be providing data downloads for non-commercial purposes, allowing researchers to investigate the data in more detail, and after that we will be adding some tutorials to the site to help people find their way around. I'm also planning to port the Android app to iPhone when I get a chance.

All of us on the project team would quite like to work more on the project as and when possible, on these planned updates, and also on expanding the project further if we can...

The data we are using is only a small subset of the data available in the National Archives. There is potential - if we can find both time and funding - to expand the temporal coverage of bomb data to cover the entire period of the Blitz and the rest of the war, including mapping the V1 and V2 bombs that were launched into London later in the war. We could add more detailed reports (known as BC4 reports) to the site, which were written reports that described many of the bomb sites. We could also include more contextual information around each bomb location, such as more photos, user-submitted stories and comments. And of course, London wasn't the only city that was bombed during the war - there are many other British cities that were bombed, and many European cities that were hit even worse by Allied bombing.

If you would like to find out more about the Bomb Sight project, have a read of the project blog, or tweet us on the project at @BombSightUK.

Bomb Sight: explore London during the Blitz

For the past few months I've been part of a team working on a project that's helping make available information about where bombs fell in London during the period of World War II known as The Blitz.

Secret until 1972Records and maps from the WWII Bomb Census survey 1940-1945 have been available at the National Archives in Kew since they were declassified in 1972. The public has been able to access the original records there if they knew what they were looking for, and can get to Kew to visit the archives (something that's well worth doing, if you get a chance) but the maps hadn't been available online... until today.

Bomb SightThe Bomb Sight website launched today to make this information more accessible to the public. Covering the period between 7th October 1940 to 6th June 1941, you can find out where bombs fell during the Blitz and also access photos and stories that relate to that area during the war.

The project was funded as part of the JISC Content Programme to digitise a subset of the maps and make them available online - in both raster and vector forms - and provide a mobile augmented reality interface to explore where bombs fell in the area around you.

The main bomb damage map is the place to start exploring. Zoom out to get an idea of how badly hit each and every part of London was, or zoom in to an area (e.g. bombs falling near Tower Bridge) to see more detail.

You may want to use the layers menu to switch from the modern map to the original maps used to record bomb locations.

You can click through to see a little more information about each bomb (e.g. these two east and west of Tower Bridge) and see related information about the area.

You can also explore statistics for all areas of London down to a borough (e.g. Southwark) and ward level (e.g. Riverside, Southwark).

Keep an eye out for the Android app I'm working on for the project, which will be coming soon. In the mean time, you can already explore an area using your phone, simply by visiting bombsight.org in your browser.

If you're interested in the work we've been doing with the project, follow us on Twitter @BombSightUK, and please help spread the word to others who may be interested in exploring London's past. You can also read some more information about the work over the past year in the project blog.

QR code treasure trails

QR code trail sticker in-situI've been working with QR codes since the tail end of last year and have seen an impressive growth in interest from marketers and consumers, with QR codes appearing in all sorts of different places, from the Metro newspaper to estate agents' windows. Doing social media work with the Tag Street twitter account @tag_st, I get to keep an eye on how these codes are being adopted around the world.

Whenever you're working for any length of time with a technology that's new to you, it's quite common to try and think up other uses for it, testing things out in new ways to see if they'll work.

So, a month or so back, I had the idea of creating a QR code trail using little stickers that could lead people from one point to the next. I asked on Twitter to see if any of my followers would scan a random QR code they found on the street. Some seemed curious, others unsure, or even concerned, and others definitely wouldn't. A good cross-section, I thought, and enough to convince me to get some stickers printed up (Moo stickers were perfect for this) and give it a shot.

On 1st June I tweeted the start point of the trail, on the northern part of Tower Bridge and it was soon picked up and retweeted by the London SE1 hyperlocal site.

The same day, the first tag got scanned by a couple of people, but nobody made it to the second tag, or any further than that. Nobody has scanned any of the tags since, despite all (but one, the final tag) still being in place*.

Chairs in Potters Fields parkSo, what does this leave me thinking about QR codes? Actually, not much differently than I did already... For QR codes to work, and prove useful to to the people they're there to help, they must:

  • be clear about the content they'll deliver, and their value
  • provide alternative ways to access their content - a short URL
  • be easy to see, and invite people passing by who could gain value

These tags had their own unique website address printed on them (at QRtrail.co.uk/something) but that was about it. They didn't provide a clear way that a person could benefit from scanning the code. In fact, the last tag - the treasure if you will - was simply a nice relaxing place to sit, with a nice view of City Hall, Tower Bridge, and Potters Fields park.

If I'm going to try this again, it'll need some rethinking, probably some better publicity, and a prize at the end to encourage people to try it out. Meanwhile, if you'd like to try out a sheet of 6 stickers wherever you are, let me know and I'll sort you out with a set of tags that you can edit at qrtrail.co.uk.

If you'd like to try the SE1 trail, visit QRtrail.co.uk/trail/se1 and let me know how you get on.

* I'll take the stickers down before too long so they don't stay as litter in the city

Book Review: OpenStreetMap: Using and Enhancing the Free Map of the World

A review of OpenStreetMap: Using and Enhancing the Free Map of the World by Ramm, Topf and Chilton

This book is a great introduction to, and overview of, the OpenStreetMap project, with plenty of detail and pointers to further information, all of which is sure to get the reader hooked in the realm of open geodata.

As an open source community-oriented project, there is a lot of information already available on the OpenStreetMap wiki website, but it can be disjointed at times, and difficult to get a good overview of the project. This book provides a good alternative, condensing all the information you need to start updating the map, using the map data on GPS devices, and also gives plenty of examples to developers keen on using the wealth of map data in their own projects.

The chapters of the book are broken up into small enough chunks that readers can easily dip in and out, while also providing plenty of information to refer back to during mapping.

The first half of the book is geared towards those readers who want to get started mapping their surroundings and contributing geographic information to the OpenStreetMap project. The second half goes into more detail about the technical aspects of OpenStreetMap, introducing the data API and other ways of accessing and modifying the data for use in third party projects.

Throughout the book, readers are given links to the OpenStreetMap wiki for further information about topics, should they be interested in finding out more.

This book would be of interest to a range of different audiences, from walkers and geocaching enthusiasts keen to explore and document their surroundings, to GIS users wanting to know more about emerging sources of geodata, and web developers who are looking for maps or a new source of information to use in their projects... or anyone else who has an interest in geography and how emerging technologies are helping develop the subject.

Logos and locations in QR codes

Custom design QR code for themap.imI have spent a bit of time this afternoon looking into QR codes, and how they can be customised to incorporate logos or other information. I think the first I saw of this trend was a BBC logo embedded into a QR code, but numerous people have tried it out, such as these ones from Japan, where the QR code has already been used much more widely than in the UK.

If you haven't come across QR codes before, they are much like barcodes, but have the ability to store much more information in them. Perhaps the most common use is to store a website address in them. When scanned with a mobile app like Bakodo or the Google app for the iPhone, the handset can load up the website it points to, and instantly give the user more information about the tag they have scanned.

These 2-dimensional barcodes have a tolerance for errors, meaning that bits of it can be missing or covered up, while still being able to be read and used. That's quite handy, if you want to make them look a little more interesting and include a logo or something to attract people's attention to them. Even better, it's as simple as generating a normal QR code from the Google Charts API (e.g. one for dankarran.com), downloading it, opening it in your favourite graphics editor, and inserting your logo. Check to make sure your scanner can still read it, tweak it if necessary, and you're set. Set the error correction level to the highest value possible (chld=H in the chart URL) and keep your URL as short as possible to give you most flexibility around your logo and less chance of it breaking barcode scanning applications.

Using QR codes to improve location-based information

Custom design QR code for OpenStreetMapQR codes could be quite useful for tourist information signs, to give people quick access to more information about the local area, a map of local amenities, or directions to whatever they are looking for. Most phones that have the ability to recognise a QR code probably also have a GPS or some other form of positioning built in, which could help them find their location on the standard Google Maps, but doesn't necessarily help them get at other detailed information, perhaps provided by the likes of OpenStreetMap or provided by local information sites or the local government. Using these codes to point to targeted local information could be of great use to visitors (as long as there's a note to tell them how to make use of the QR code).

A QR code like the one at the top of the post could be useful for someone standing at a tourist information point in the Sea Terminal in Douglas, Isle of Man, as it takes them to a map centred on that point. The site it points to doesn't do much more than providing maps of the Isle of Man at the moment, and doesn't work too well on a mobile yet, but could (and hopefully will, before too long) provide much more information that could be of use to visitors. Similarly, the one to the right points to a map of Douglas on the OpenStreetMap site.

I haven't seen many QR codes in use yet, but hopefully they could become much more widespread in coming years. Could you see yourself making use of codes you found out on the street?

New maps of the Isle of Man

Last week I launched a section on themap.im to show a gallery of maps of the Isle of Man. The aim is to create localised maps for different towns and villages around the Island, so for example you could bookmark a map of Castletown, Colby or Cregneash, or any other place listed in the gallery.

Maps of the Isle of Man

The maps got some great coverage with a BBC Isle of Man article, which has generated a good amount of interest in the site. The more people the map is available to, the sooner we can iron out any issues in the map data. There may be the odd typo, things accidentally added in the wrong place, or things that are missing completely, so all feedback is welcome.

For me, building this site is a great opportunity to use Drupal to help promote OpenStreetMap data, using the OpenLayers mapping library (and Drupal module) to display the maps on the site, and I'm looking forward to building the site out further.

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