Kelso at MIT for 2012 Knight News Challenge Winners

(Cross-posted from the Stamen blog, written by Eric.)

Nathaniel showcased nearly two years of City Tracking in Boston last Monday at the MIT/Knight Story and the Algorithm conference. You can read about this years’ winners here, as well about the changing nature of the grant: shorter cycles, more opportunities to apply, that kind of thing. It’s worth a look.

The City Tracking project started off with Dotspotting.org, which allows mapping of data spreadsheets. The project still sees active use, but after we made the Toner tiles available for download we started to notice that more people were expressing interest in the background maps than in the ability to put dots on them.

Responding to public feedback while the project happened was something we were interested in from the start, and http://maps.stamen.com is the result: a browsable, embeddable, and otherwise immediately usable map of the whole world that can be used in Google Maps, Modest Maps, and other mapping APIs without having to download all of OpenStreetMap or tinkering with servers and technical code.

Nathaniel closed with a project we launched in March showing how climate change can be made personal on the street level, instead of the usual course brush strokes, with Climate Central’s surging seas project.

These thin slices of big data are bite size morsels of aha. We hope you like them!

Demand, Supply

This morning when I got into work, I noticed a small uptick in the bug reports that we get via maps.stamen.com. Curiously, quite a few of them were centered around England. I suppose I had thought that we would have generated most of the English tiles by now, so could expect smooth sailing there. Then, someone gave the game away:

“A blue tile in the center of London that unfortunately shows up on my desktop background when using Satellite Eyes.”

Friend-of-Stamen, Tom Taylor, announced almost 24 hours ago that he had “made a thing and wrote a blog post about it.” That thing is Satellite Eyes, which changes your Mac desktop wallpaper to a map of where you are. Tom has incorporated Watercolor, Toner and Terrain (in the U.S.) as well as the lovely Bing Aerial map as options.


Here is a screenshot of my desktop, with the Watercolor neighbourhood map of San Francisco in Halftone selected.

After many of us here at the Studio had installed the app, we began to notice that our tile farm was… well… smoking. Since Tom is English, we suspected that many other English people around England had also installed the app, and were happily playing with the preferences that let you switch between map styles and zoom levels. We took to the graphs:


1 is the normal, full usage. 5 is not.

Even though this is all Tom’s fault, it’s also a good thing! Far better to respond to actual demand than to try to optimize prematurely. So, we’ve increased capacity by spreading some of the some of the watercolor rendering load into EC2, and are working on re-creating those “underwater” tiles you might have noticed around the map.

Thanks, Tom! Excellent work!

Watercolor in the Wild

One of the most common enquiries we’re reading about Watercolor maps is about how to make prints. Given such demand, we’re thinking about a new tool to help you select an print an area of a map. Stay tuned for news about that.

I answered a bug report from Michael in Switzerland, who’d found the “underwater” bug in an area of the map he wanted to use on a poster about OpenStreetMap for a conference called GEOSummit, to be held in Bern June 19-21. As you can see below, he worked around the bug by blending Watercolor with the default OpenStreetMap tiles, and the fabulous OpenCycleMap, including a view on the Transport layer, by Andy Allan.

If only I was in Switzerland!