Geographic

Timestamp and address support in KML module

In addition to the recently implemented views support in Drupal's KML module, the latest Drupal 5 version of the module now adds support for time and addresses.

Each of the placemarks now has a timestamp based on its creation date in your Drupal site, allowing you to filter your content by a specific time frame using the Time controls in Google Earth.

Also, if you have added address information to your nodes then this will be added to the placemarks as well (in both freeform format and the xAL standard), allowing content to show up in Google Earth even if you haven't added specific coordinates to it through your Drupal site. The geocoding is down to Google Earth and sometimes things will default to 0,0 if it isn't able to work out where in the world it should go.

Map localisation in an international context

When you use an online maps of another country using a mapping service like Google Maps or Yahoo Maps, would you expect the place names on that map to be displayed in your own local language and/or script or to be in that of the country you're looking at the map of?

I was posting a video to one of our sites (naturally Drupal-based) at work today to test some functionality, and started wondering when I came to add a location to the post. The point of the test wasn't to check the mapping-based functionality in the site, but that is what caught my attention.

The video I was posting (one about giant hornets, and very cool, even if they do freak me out) was filmed on the Japanese island of Honshu, so naturally I wanted to geolocate it somewhere there in the general sort of area so others could see where it was filmed.

As I zoomed in to Japan I quickly noticed that all the place names were in Japanese with no English equivalent. That left me out of luck as somebody who knows the English name of the place but knows nothing of Japanese script. Looking to the west of Japan, Russia is in the same situation, having place names only in Russian. China, on the other hand, actually has place names in both English and Chinese (and they also have a localised version of Google Maps just in Chinese). Check out this map to see a couple of examples from that region of the world.

So my first question is, why are the maps showing multilingual names in some places but not others? Is it about data availability, perhaps the level of effort it would take to merge multiple datasets of place names for some countries?

Hopefully names will, in time, be shown in different languages for other countries too.

For these maps to be a truly useful international as well as local resource, place names should ideally be available in the local form as well as in other forms. Instead of picking one 'international' language such as English, they should probably be available in the local language of the country that the company has aimed a mapping portal at (Google has ones for the US, UK, France, Germany, Russia, China, and about ten others).

So, for example, the US and UK portals would show place names in English by default, with the local language of the country displaying alongside. For others, such as the French portal, the French versions of place names could be used with the local version, falling back perhaps to the accepted international (usually English?) name of the place where there was no translation available. In Russia, the Russian version would be used if there was one, along with the local version.

Traditionally, maps were published by governments or other mapmakers within a country and would typically have the place names conveyed in the language of the publishing country (maps made in France would have all the names in French, etc.) because that's who the maps were targeted at. In a more connected, distributed world, the publishing country becomes less relevant and the target countries much more so.

It may be a lot of work but at the end of the day I think international maps should be localised into the language of the user. If the problem is data availability then the likes of Geonames and the implicit database of linkages between articles of different languages in Wikipedia could play a great role here with their growing databases of place names. In OpenStreetMap as well, we have the ability to store place names in as many languages as they have names (e.g. name:en=Isle of Man, name:de=Insel Man, name:fr=L'Ile de Man), though I think currently we only render the default name value on the main maps (which is likely to be the local language of that country). In the future this could be improved upon, as long as the data is in the database.

Update: a website called diddlefinger.com has been adding its own labels on top of Google's maps of Japan for a year or so now. Interesting use of the API to make things more usable for an international audience.

Where to find maps of the Isle of Man

When I first started adding road network data for the Isle of Man into the OpenStreetMap project, there were only a few map sites online that had maps of the Island, and none as easy to use as the Google Maps service (which at the time did not include maps of the Island, and still doesn't to this day) which rocked the world of web mapping when it launched.

As I recall, the sites with maps of the Island at that time were limited to MultiMap and the Ordnance Survey Get a map service.

Things have come a long way since then though. The OpenStreetMap maps of the Isle of Man are not too far away from being complete (with a little help), but aren't yet ready for end users looking for detailed maps. Many of the other map providers do, however, have great coverage of the Island in their maps. Here's a bit of an overview detailing the merits of each of them:

Site Overview Description

192.com

192.com map of the Isle of Man

Map of roads, railways and railways stations (marked incorrectly with British Rail logos), rivers, plantations, reservoirs and long distance footpaths. Does not allow zooming in to towns for detailed street maps.

Ask.com

Ask.com map of the Isle of Man

Map of roads, rivers, some plantations and reservoirs. Includes detailed street map information.

Google Maps

Google Maps map of the Isle of Man

Map of Island outline.

Microsoft Live Search

Microsoft Live Search map of the Isle of Man

Map of terrain, roads, railways and railways stations, rivers, plantations and reservoirs. Includes detailed street map information. Island incorrectly attributed to the UK.

Multimap

Multimap map of the Isle of Man

Map of roads. Does not include detailed street map information (streets disappear from map beyond a certain zoom level) but does include the Ordnance Survey 1:50,000 map of the Island if you hover your mouse over the 'map' toggle to the left of the map.

OpenStreetMap

OpenStreetMap map of the Isle of Man

Map of roads, railways and railways stations, rivers, plantations, reservoirs and some long distance footpaths. The town street maps are not very detailed yet.

People's Map

People's Map map of the Isle of Man

Map of main roads and some rivers. The map disappears past a certain zoom level, but they do have excellent aerial imagery for the whole of the Island.

Yahoo! Maps

Yahoo! Maps map of the Isle of Man

Map of terrain, roads, railways and railways stations (marked incorrectly with British Rail logos), rivers, some plantations and reservoirs. Includes detailed street map information.

I've included all the draggable ("slippy") map providers - or at least the ones I can think of right now - to give a bit of an overview of how their coverage differs, and also give a bit of a glimpse into the differences between their cartography and general feel of the maps. Also worth a mention here are the street maps that the Government provide for most towns across the Island.

With all these mapping services providing maps of the Island for free, is it really still worth continuing to build up the map data in the OpenStreetMap project? Of course it is! These maps are nothing but that: static maps, and some of them really great ones at that. They are great if all you want is a static map, somewhere to share a single location with someone else, or even the ability to overlay your own information on top of the map using that provider's API.

The whole point behind the OpenStreetMap project though (and to a certain extent, the People's Map project) is that the underlying map geodata is available and re-usable under a free license for you to be creative and do what you like with that data.

Maybe you're working in conservation and want to create a map showing all the rivers and different habitats on the Island, but not include roads. Maybe you are a walker and want to create a map that shows just the footpaths on the Island. Maybe you run a local listings site and you want to create a map that shows only the locations you want it to show and hide things that may not be of interest to your visitors. There are many possibilities, and the great thing is that if you have an idea, you can go off and use the data we're building up, allowing you to fulfil your idea without having to use the prescribed maps that are provided by the big providers.

Note: all the maps included above are copyrighted by their respective owners, and are included here under fair dealing clause for comparison of their individual benefits.

On cartographers and neocartographers

Neogeography has been growing pretty quickly over the past few years, much of it I think kicking off when people started mashing up location-based data with Google Maps, perhaps the most memorable of those early ones being a mashup of data from Craigs List classifieds site and maps from Google.

With so many mashups online already (over 50,000) and many more on their way, there is a bit of a concern from professional cartographers that neogeographers - or more specifically, neocartographers, the ones making the maps as opposed to the ones laying information on top of existing maps - who may not have a background in cartography, will ignore the many principles that cartographers use to create maps that are both useful and usable.

What is refreshing to see is that well respected cartographers such as Steve Chilton, Chairman of the Society of Cartographers, are encouraging cartographers and neo-cartographers to work together, towards the common goal of sharing geographic information more effectively and helping shape the way people look at the world.

"My contention is that cartographers need to embrace these neo-cartographers, and work with them in the way that they possibly didn't with GIS providers/users, and to get out there and influence the way we look at the world - which effectively is what this whole Google Earth phenomenon is changing in society."

Steve Chilton

You can read the (first part of an) interview with Steve over on Rich Treves' Google Earth Design blog. You may also be interested in his presentation "Here be Dragons: some principles of cartography and OSM" (audio) from the recent State of the Map conference.

In the OpenStreetMap project we're very grateful to have Steve share his cartographic skills (along with other cartographers such as Richard Fairhurst who presented "Why Mash-ups suck (and Cartography matters)" at the SOTM) to help better the quality of the maps that we produce from our community-collected data.

If you're a cartographer with an interest in neo-cartography - and ways in which you could help shape it - or a neo-cartographer with an interest in improving your cartography skills then there's one event you should go to this summer: the Society of Cartographers Summer School in Portsmouth between the 3rd and the 6th of September.

180px-Douglas-areas.pngI wish I could be there to improve upon my - very basic - cartographic skills.

... Judging by my map of areas around Douglas for the Isle of Man mapping party and overview map of the TT course that I produced a few months back, I could definitely do with improving them!

Google's approach to crowdsourcing map data

I was curious about this after the State of the Map conference but it seems last week Michael Jones, the CTO of Google Earth, shone a little light on the subject of Google's crowdsourced maps of India (along with other geo things from Google) at the Cambridge Conference.

I've transcribed the part of the podcast that really interested me (see below), describing what they've built up in terms of geodata for 50 Indian cities and how they are doing it with a pilot project to deploy a 'care package' to countries to let the citizens map it for themselves based on local knowledge and Google's excellent aerial imagery sources*.

"... I'll show you one more thing. Lets say we go to Hyderabad, India. Now, it turns out that it takes more than money to get good GIS data, it actually takes data that's available to get. Now we have a problem with that because sometimes we can't get good data.

This is Hyderabad, and if you see the dark areas, those correspond to roads in low detail. If you zoom in, you'll see the roads, and if you expand a little bit, you'll see both roads and labelled places... there's graveyards, and some roads and so forth.

Now, everything you see here was created by people in Hyderabad. We have a pilot program running in India. We've done about 50 cities now, in their completeness, with driving directions and everything - completely done by having locals use some software we haven't released publicly to draw their city on top of our photo imagery.

So we're building a little care package we can send to countries like Togo, and say if you want to have maps of your country, you may not have a national mapping agency of any merit, but if you have some inspired amateurs, you can map out your country. FIll out all the details and then you can do routing and navigation just like in the big countries.

There's no real economic benefit in that, it just seems right that everyone should have a map. So we're doing everything we can to get mapping data to every human and in some countries where there's no data, we're trying to give them tools to build the data.

There is data in India it's just that the Royal Survey of India got its licensing plans from its ancestor in the Ordnance Survey. [laughs]. But there are countries though, where there is no data and we have to help them develop data. There are countries where there is data, and we license that. There are in between countries where there is both commercial data and official data, and we'd love to have the official data - and we'd be happy to pay for it - we just need to have some way to work with the government to do that.

So that's an exciting opportunity for us, but I'll remind you, just from a technology standpoint, we'd love to work with you but we don't have to. [laughs from the audience]. And the reason for that is that the local people are the local experts. They're not surveyors so you can't really trust their locations, but what's interesting when you have a few million users, you can do statistical analysis of contributed data. You can get the same thing from different IP addresses over a long period of time, with a high correlation, you can start to believe in it. You can show that with a tentative colour, and have people click on whether they believe it or not and have confirmatory comments. You can actually converge to pretty good data and it has the advantage of, when the road is closed, you can click on that road and say it's closed today. If you're having a block party, you can say the block is closed this day. Traffic data that's up to date every day."

If you're familiar with OpenStreetMap then this may all sound familiar, except for the fact that Google has an enormous audience all over the world, and if only a few of Google's users in each place around the world would start mapping their local areas then the planet would be mapped in no time.

I wonder if they will license the data out at all, or just allow the rendered maps to be used through their services?

(via)

* This crowdsourcing project may also partially explain why Google is not as keen as Yahoo in allowing OpenStreetMap contributors to use their aerial imagery.

Isle of Man mapping party

The Isle of Man is going to be having its first OpenStreetMap mapping party on Saturday 1st September, with the main aim of mapping the Island's capital, Douglas.

(I'm not going to be around after Sunday morning unfortunately - I need to fly back to Stuttgart - but if others are then Ramsey may also be a good target if we get Douglas completed.)

Details are pretty sparse at present but I'll be fleshing out the Isle of Man mapping party information over on the OpenStreetMap wiki. If you're interested, please add yourself to the list over there.

If anyone is thinking of travelling from outside of the Island and would like advice on getting to the Island, or somewhere to stay, let me know.

How the GeoCMSs compare

At the State of the Map conference it was great to be able to meet up with two guys who also have interests in creating geographically able content management systems (GeoCMS), Andrew Turner who created the GeoPress plugin for MovableType and WordPress and Henri Bergius who is one of the founders of the Midgard CMS.

Before their talk on GeoClue we had a good opportunity to sit down and talk through some of the current functionality of the different systems, see where they differ, and try to agree on some common base functionality that we felt should be present across the different platforms.

The features included things like ability to save a location (obviously), how many locations could be used to reference each post, the presence of maps and which providers they used, the ability to post location information through the blogging API, the inclusion of Microformats (hCard), syndication formats (GeoRSS, KML, etc.), OpenSearch capabilities, reverse geocoding of coordinates to give place information, posting by email, and a couple of others.

When I get a chance I'm going to build up a table over on the Geospatial Content Management System Wikipedia page to compare the systems we talked about (WordPress, Midgard and Drupal) but also others such as Joomla, TikiWiki and Plone. Any input on those would be much appreciated as I haven't done much with them to date.

Update: I didn't notice that Henri had already blogged a little about this, and after the conference went off and added maps to Midgard using Mapstraction... cool!

Crowdsourced street maps for commercial providers

The State of the Map conference at the weekend - organised mostly by the OpenStreetMap Foundation - was a great success. It drew in a broad mix of a crowd, from OSM hackers through to academics, surveyors, cartographers and those in business who are in a position to both benefit from the project and support it in achieving its goals of mapping the world - many of them actually being sponsors of the weekend.

Ed Parsons, geospatial technologist at Google, took the opening speech on Sunday, drawing on his experience as ex-CTO of the Ordnance Survey and his new role at Google. He highlighted just how much of the world is covered by user-created content of some sort, showing hubs of activity in Britain - likely due to the Geograph project - and other places around the world, noting that there were very few gaps in the coverage. Few gaps in coverage suggests there are few places without people who have and interest in geography and the area around them. It'd be interesting to compare Ed's (Google's) map of user generated content with OpenStreetMap's map of user generated geodata and see how different or alike they are in their hotspots of activity.

The main point of this post was to point out Ed's announcement that Google is using crowdsourced map data for some of their maps of India. I don't recall the source of the data (Mumbai Free Map, perhaps?) but I am curious, at what point would Google start using OpenStreetMap's crowdsourced data?

He brought up two issues that were affecting that decision at present: licensing - a big issue in the community - and quality* - something we need to start start thinking a lot more about now that some areas are 'complete' and potentially ready for being used as such, and many others getting closer to that point every day. What issues did they have to work through to get the Indian maps into their transport layer on Google Earth (and Maps?)?

No prizes for guessing which part of the world I'd like to see covered by the major mapping providers...

The closing talk at State of the Map was given by Sean Phelan, founder of MultiMap, about the history of web mapping. He was joined by John McKerrell, senior software engineer and developer of their cool new 'slippy map', to talk about the modern age of web mapping.

Sean's personal prediction (wish) was that they'd be able to use OpenStreetMap as a layer on the MultiMap website by the end of 2007. But with the (possible though ambitious) aim of Steve Coast - OpenStreetMap founder - of finishing the map of Britain by mid 2008, it'll be interesting to see how they deal with the issue of 'completeness' of the map. How will end users feel about an incomplete map? Will it drive more people into the project to fix up the map?

Users aside (for now), there's one thing for sure and that's that MultiMap, the first British online mapping provider, will be viewed as a visionary by those of us building the maps and hopefully also by those in industry who may not be convinced right now of the value of user-created maps.

* actually, looking back through Ed's presentation I think the second point wasn't quality as such, but about the reach of the project... I should've taken notes :)

Update: See Frank Taylor's post on gearthblog.com about Google's maps in India and listen to Michael Jones' (Chief Technologist of Google Earth) presentation about it.

State of The (Manx) Map

The map of the Isle of Man is the featured image this week on OpenStreetMap so I think now is a good time for the State of The (Manx) Map post that I've been considering doing for a while. (Obviously borrowing ever so slightly from the name of the upcoming State of The Map conference in Manchester... have you registered yet?).

Overall coverage

The overall coverage of the Island is great thanks to the assistance of the Isle of Man Government, as you can see from the map below. Much of the detail from the government map has been included in the OpenStreetMap data, although I'm sure there are some features that have been overlooked to date.

isle-of-man-openstreetmap.png

The gaps in the map start to show when you zoom in to specific areas. Taking Douglas as an example, I'll show what level of detail is available and what will need local assistance (and possibly a mapping party) to get the town maps to a usable level of detail.

Douglas in detail

douglas-map-detail.jpg

Douglas has the majority of its major routes mapped already, but it's missing a lot of the detail in between, like smaller roads, housing estates, pathways and the like. Where these do exist in the map already, they usually do not have a name associated with them, and almost never have all of the cul-de-sacs and such mapped out.

The likes of Castletown have more of their roads covered (it's smaller, and much easier to cover them) but likewise doesn't have the names of many of the smaller streets. Port St Mary is covered pretty well, including names, thanks to the support of one guy and his bike.

If you live in a place that's missing detail, you have an opportunity to help... Let's try and beat Google Maps to coverage of the Island!

Mapping party

If anybody from the Island is interested in doing some mapping (taking a GPS unit out and writing down street names as you go), especially around Douglas and Ramsey, then let me know. I'm likely to be back on the Island for most of the last week in August, so perhaps a little mapping party is in order then...

Isle_of_Man_map_wikipedia.pngOn a related note, it's great to see as well that some other free maps of the Isle of Man are surfacing on Wikipedia, licensed under a Creative Commons license.

Best of all, the image is in vector format and so can easily be altered to illustrate things with ease (it's perhaps a good starting point for the TT Course map I started last month).

3Dconnexion SpaceNavigator

3Dconnexion SpaceNavigator on my MacBook Pro at workI folded last week and bought myself a SpaceNavigator 3D mouse from Amazon after reading great reviews of it. They have been out a little while but only recently has the company released a Mac driver, and Google Earth added support for it in 4.1.

Flying around Earth is likely to be my main use of this great little peripheral.

Since I first opened up Google Earth I didn't find it completely intuitive to navigate, but I got used to it. Mice and trackpads simply weren't designed for this purpose.

The SpaceNavigator is designed exactly for it though, giving you so much more power in navigating a 3D globe. I have already spent hours just flying around Stuttgart's valleys and even trying to land at its airport - I wasn't too successful - as well as flying around the Isle of Man and exploring parts of Japan and Manhattan where there are 3D buildings available to create an imersive world through which to fly.

I'm not sure I have much of a practical use for the SpaceNavigator at the moment, but it's great for just allowing yourself to get lost exploring the world from the comfort of your laptop. And with Amazon offering to pay 20EUR of it just for me to use their credit card, it was difficult to stop myself getting this great little navigator.

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