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!

“This is map-making gone riot.”

Mike & Eric at Code for America in January

Watch two presentations that Mike, then Eric gave in January this year: Big Data For Public Good, hosted by Code for America.

I happened to be in the audience, and was thrilled to hear a gasp or two when Eric revealed our work on the Watercolor maps in public for the first time, about 15 minutes in to his presentation. That was a couple of months before we launched them on March 22, 2012.

As a provocation, Rodenbeck closed with the statement that “there’s no such thing as raw data”—it is always scrubbed, filtered, and interpreted. The challenge—and great opportunity—is to analyze and interpret the data in service of the public good, and to communicate these insights to mass audiences in accessible ways that resonate and inspire action.