Winding Up…

Well, we’ve sent in our Citytracking grant report to the Knight News Challenge team. I’m still working on a write-up of the last few months of Citytracking activity (since my last update post), and we’re planning to publish the actual grant report for other people to read on the blog. But! While you wait patiently, here’s a nice photo of a giant map out in the world.

The photo was sent to us by Martin von Wyss, in Victoria, Australia. We were proud to display a large (upside down) watercolor map of London in the map gallery at GeoNext, the conference in Australia for location-based technology & business:

State of the cartography

Once maps were special. They were collected, copied, encrypted, used to plan wars and proved wisdom and influence. The map was the muse for artists like Johannes Vermeer and Jasper Johns who made them the focus of paintings.

Now maps are commonplace and banal. As publishers fade away, map shops close and road atlases are replaced by GPS directions, do maps continue to fascinate artists?

A new exhibit of recent works puts the art back into cartography and coincides with the second GeoNext conference. Maps of big data, novel interpretations, emotions and ideas remind us that it isn’t the process or media that matter when a big, stationery, canvas is required.

A Couple More Months of

Following up on our April post, here’s another round-up of Watercolor, Toner and Terrain out there on teh internets.

Maps on Things

Today we launched Watercolor New York, the first print in a series of watercolor cities on Jen Bekman’s 20×200 site. We’ll be releasing more cities over the coming months, so keep an eye out. It’s a thrill for Stamen to be amongst the many artists already represented on 20×200, and lovely to see the watercolors in 30×40 inches of high resolution glory!

Along this theme, an enterprising chap named Sergey has taken the time to assemble map tiles into 3 posters of New York, London and Amsterdam, and popped them up as PNGs, PDFs or to buy as a print on a service called Red Bubble. Here’s to your first million, Sergey!

Ian Johnson painted some white Vans sneakers with Toner cities significant to him. (When can I get a pair, Ian?)


Riding on the Satellite Eyes wave of attention, maps popped up around the place on people’s desktops, and in the news…

Satellite Eyes is brilliant.
Photo by moleitau, CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

Information about Cities

Love this tweet from @spilliams:

“”well, somebody press the Easy button and let’s ship it! made with @LeafletJS and @stamen in 5 minutes.”

While it’s not exactly clear from his picture what he’s shipping—I suspect something beer-related—it’s fantastic to hear how easy it is to get up and running with our maps. There are more and more projects that are using CityTracking to share information.

Danny & Tom from Leeds Art Map have used Toner on their map of art and cultural happenings in Leeds. There’s an interesting echo with CityTracking in their project’s aims: “The project draws inspiration from Jacques Rancière’s notion of equality of intelligence. Rancière rejects the conventional relationship between master and student, specifically how this manifests as an ‘active teacher – passive receiver’ dynamic. This relationship, according to Rancière, encourages a superiority of those in the know over those who are not and need emancipating, thus perpetuating inequality. Instead, ordinary people should always have an assumption of intelligence, therefore fostering a relationship between bodies that initiates from a point of equality.”

Jack Reed has built a site that displays any and all health inspections for Atlanta restaurants on a Toner map. The service connects directly into the Georgia Department of Public Health, so viewers can see inspections for restaurants in their area. A simple map interface makes the GDPH information more available than it was before.

Newly crowned Poster Child for the entire CityTracking initiative, Marcus Wohlsen, a journalist at Wired Business, has started teaching himself web development to help him tell stories.

“I read a quote now lost in the mists of Twitter that not knowing how to program in the 21st century is like living in the Middle Ages and not knowing how to swing a sword. I think that analogy goes extra for journalists.”

We were chuffed at his lovely “tribute to Stamen’s amazing watercolor map tiles and great open-source tools such as Polymaps that make creating custom interactive maps a pleasure,” Ansel Adams in L.A...

And, in addition to writing up his process for creating the project, Marcus also created a template for other people to use. Just fantastic! Thank you, Marcus!

There are also individuals within big organizations and government beginning to use the maps, which is super exciting. Last week, Code for America announced a new initiative called 311 Labs, a platform to experiment with 311 data and communicate with each other about their work. One of the showcase projects, The Daily Brief, displays 311 tickets on Toner…

Amongst its myriad mandates, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) also registers antenna structures across the USA. You can see the location of the antennas being registered on either Toner, Terrain, or a couple of other maps styles not in CityTracking, called Nightvision and Light.

The studio was thrilled when we found out that venerable Sanborn mapping company, founded in 1866, had chosen the Terrain tileset on a recent project (even though the project was in response to a sad event). Sanborn’s local Denver community was devastated by the recent Waldo Canyon Fire, and Sanborn employees responded by creating a stunning map of aerial photography of the fire damage, and a Colorado-wide map of the state’s susceptibility to wildfires.

All in all, an amazing couple of months for CityTracking! Do let us know if you have other examples out there…

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, 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 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 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!

maps.stamen: Some Known Bugs, What’s To Do

Thanks to our handy bug reporting form, and perhaps spending a little too much time surfing around the world in watercolor at the studio, we’ve isolated a couple of bugs which we’d like to update you on.

The background is, even though the watercolor map has been online for some weeks now, viewers haven’t yet looked at every place at every zoom level. Since it would take aaaages to make all the map tiles for all the zoom levels available, we’ve been creating new tile areas based on people’s viewing activity, and then working to cache tiles for popular areas. (See Jeff’s Log Maps post on for more information about this.)

This means there are parts of the world haven’t had their watercolor map made. What we’re finding too, is that some of the tiles that have already been made have been generated incorrectly, and will have to be re-made.

As you click around watercolor world, you might come across maps that look like this:

We’ve been calling this the “Underwater” bug. It seems like it happens in the tile-making process if the machine that constructs the tiles is running too hot. It freaks out at coastlines, and ends up literally flooding the land area with the water texture.

You may also have seen a preponderance of grey while you browse around too, like:

Thanks to our superstar efficiency buddy, Aaron Huslage, we think we’ve tracked down the overall issue to machine I/O, the servers’ ability to process inputs, and issue outputs. If the I/O is flooded, the software to generate tiles on the fly baulks, and gets more and more underwater. So, to try to reduce that chance of flooding, we need to reduce and simplify the inputs we’re sending through to create new tiles. Step 1 is to try to “simplify the world.”

The theory is that we’re sending a more complicated Make request than we need to. CTO, Mike Migurski likens this to killing a whole chicken in order to make a McNuggetTM. We’re experimenting with ways to reduce the size of OpenStreetMap data ahead of time, for the whole world, because Watercolor in particular is such simplified cartography that is doesn’t need the whole chicken. If we just give Cascadenik only what it needs (instead of the whole chicken), that might reduce the machine I/O. Then, we’ll see what happens next…

We’ll post an update to let you know if that worked, or not. Any advice that springs to mind, feel free to post a comment!

A Month of

Well, it’s been about a month since we announced, and what a month it’s been! The whole team has had tremendous fun listening and watching people enjoying the new maps: Watercolor, Toner and Terrain. Here’s a few snippets of reporting in the news, and a sample of fantastic re-use of the new maps…

In The News

“A new Creative Commons tile set adds a human, organic touch to cold digital maps. Now if only there were more projects like this.”

“Beautiful visualisation tool transforms maps into works of art”

“…a re-imagined view of cities…”

Experiments, Playing

“Playing with & (watercolor) for fun. Contemplating the possibilities…”

And we were super excited to spot this little tweet from @pajbam in Paris:

It was the “Maybe time to contribute?” question that got us excited; that these maps are tempting enough for people to try using them in whatever site they’re building. Like Bobby at Visually BS, who combined Terrain and Cloudmade’s JavaScript library, Leaflet, to make a map that shows San Francisco residents vantage points around the city from which to watch America’s Cup 2013.

Go, Gamers Go

Duncan integrated Watercolor into MapsTD (Maps Tower Defense) game he built on top of the Google Maps API. Looks pretty great as I defend the Taj Mahal…

Anton Westholm, in Malmö, wrote a utility to combine Watercolor with Inkscape to create a hex boardgame for an arbitrary area.

New Tools

Toner popped up on the fabulous WordPress plugin, Vérité Timeline, which lets you insert gorgeous timelines into your WordPress site, using data from a Google spreadsheet, or a JSON file. Great to see some interplay between Knight News funding recipients. (More please!)

Jonas Häggqvist built, a site that shows data visualization and QA for Danish OpenStreetMap edits over Toner (as one of a few map style options). In this screenshot, I turned on a few different overlays: Power, Named Places, Traces (on OSM), and Street Centers.

It’s really important and exciting to see these maps help to build out tools in the same ecosystem. To use maps generated on top of OSM data to see OSM data more clearly must be some sort of VIRTUOUS CIRCLE, surely!

Pins, Pins, Pins

Many of the team here are heavy Pinterest users, so it wasn’t a big leap to look there for activity around the new maps.

Interesting how many people look to their home town or where they live when they first use a new map… these various pins expose places on the map that we might never have looked for at the studio.

Paul Mison discovered a nice easter egg on Pinterest when you try to pin a map – you see all the composite tiles shuffled about a bit. (I feel a game coming on!)

As I’ve spent the last while getting up to speed on the whole Citytracking environs, something Eric about the project wrote way back before the Data & Cities conference has really stuck with me, and should probably be on a t-shirt:

The project is: Here’s some work, grab the code, the license is cool, don’t worry about it, use it, go ahead and publish your stuff.

To see that actually coming true — even on cupcakes — and also to see people using the Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 license correctly is huge! We’re actively collecting examples of our maps in the wild, so if you’re using them, please either leave us a comment here, or tweet @stamen with a link!