Friday, January 30, 2009

GeoCommons for Choropleth Map Creation

So I have a funding for an education project to integrate choropleth maps into teaching. The basic idea is to use new web tools to allow students to create polygons and then attach data to the polygons and allow the students to play around with the intervals and colors to learn how to present choropleth maps and learn more about the topic in hand. For example, I'm going to get some students to work together to create a map of tree density around Mt. St. Helens. For fun, you could see what patterns they will end up seeing, I've marked 2 areas for you to look at below. Your clue as to what is happening is that Mt. St. Helens was famous for erupting through its side (hole still visible) in the 1980s:

Open KMZ in Google Earth

So I have been looking at building choropleth functionality myself with the GMaps, or GEarth API but GeoCommons looks like it could fit the bill so its worth more of a close look than I gave it here.

Upload Formats: At the moment you can upload choropleth data in shape files and then manipulate them, I'm told that being able to upload KML polygons will be possible soon, they have a bug fix waiting for the next update. The point of wanting to be able to upload KML files is that I want students to be able to use and manipulate choropleth maps without having to get into GIS proper.

Screen shot of GeoCommons Maker

Usability of GeoCommons Maker: Overall the process of manipulating your choropleth map is really easy compared to the skills you would need to do it in GIS. Nice features are:
  • The ability to pull in different backgrounds including a blank screen
  • A set of standard color palettes,
  • clear and sensible option buttons top right
  • all the other positives I've pointed out before.
I have got some suggestions as to how to make Maker (what they call their map editing tool) easier for none GIS users (highest priority first):
  1. I don't like the options for sorting data classes, there are a lot of confusing techniques on offer some of which even I don't understand. A simple equal break option and a rounded break option should be the default and an 'advanced' link takes users onto those other options if needs be. By equal break I mean for a range of 0 to 307 it would offer to break the data into classes, into 0 - 103.33, 103.33 - 206.66, 206.66 - 307. By rounded equal break it would come up with some rounded suggestions like 0 - 100, 100 - 200, and 200 - 307. I hate all the decimal places in keys, it makes it really difficult to understand what the rough size of the breaks are.
  2. The key isn't obvious enough (you can just spot it as a bar in the bottom right corner)
  3. Give the countries (or polygons) a mouse rollover behaviour so that we can see the extent of the country when a mouse is positioned over it.
  4. And a really minor one: The visibility button for the layer should have a rollover behaviour to do with its border rather than becoming 'ungrayed', gray should = invisible, ungray should = visible and grayness should not indicate anything else.
But overall its already in great shape, I look forward to experimenting with it further when the new functionality is added.

UUorld is also one to watch but requiring a download is a big disadvantage and I'm not that impressed by 3D thematic maps which is their major advantage over GeoCommons.

Monday, January 26, 2009

Legibility and Maps

David Carson used this in his TED talk. He was discussing the print media but it works for maps too.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Gadget Experiment

This is the new Google Earth Gadget, via Bjorn's post, I've put the Scilly overlay in:

and without the overlay:

Later: I've just found half the Orkney Islands are missing too

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Sunken Scilly Islands

Stefan has details of problems with the new bathymetry in Google Earth, he found some uninhabited islands that have disappeared. To add to the list the Scilly Islands off the UK coast no longer appear in Google Earth and its reported there were 2000 people living there in 1995.

Google Earth screen shot off the Cornish coast UK. The Scilly Islands are gone but you can still drive around...

I couldn't resist putting them back again as an overlay, which takes you to the correct location too:

Scilly Islands Overlay

Please note that I resisted the temptation to title this post 'Scilly Google'.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

iPhone vs Magic Map

Back from my global wanderings, I'll kick off the proper posts this year with some copy I had meant to release as a semi humorous post in the run up to Christmas but which I never got around to posting:

Maps on iPhone: I have been the proud owner of a 3G iPhone for a couple of months now and, of course, have been interested in the maps capability. It has the potential, if someone produced the app, for being the first mainstream mobile device which can be used to see where your contacts are in real time (if they also have iPhones too). This obviously has huge potential for game playing, picking up kids for school, arranging a meeting at a conference etc. Like many technologies, it has been in existence in fiction for a while before making it into reality, the best example of which I know of is the 'Marauder's Map':

Although the software to enable this kind of use is only just appearing I thought it would be fun to review the Marauder's map (MM hereafter) and the iPhone map (IP hereafter) which is linked to the iPhone's GPS :

  • User interface: IP wins, in terms of usability, having to say a spell to turn on the screen is very annoying.
  • Screen size and portability: MM wins hands down, larger screen, paper thin and much lighter.
  • Battery: Again MM wins, it seems to have no power needs at all.
  • Readability: A draw, while MM is a reflective screen which is easier to read in bright sunlight, IP is transmissive so it can be read in the dark without need for another light. However, if you are already armed with a handy wand and you know a light producing spell this wouldn't seem much of a problem.
  • Tracking: MM wins, no need for your contacts to have a GPS enabled device to follow them.
  • Screen Design and look: IP wins as the display is in color and the MM looks, well..., SO dated.
iPhone vs a normal paper map: More seriously, I had an interesting conversation with a psychologist contact of mine who has been involved with a navigational test involving an iPhone-like device compared with a paper map. People tend to think the iPhone map is always better but in fact he showed that when testing speed of navigating over small trips the paper map won because people wasted time working out how to use the iPhone, turning it on, waiting for it to get a GPS fix etc. etc.

More posts coming soon, I had a lot of time for thinking about the GeoWeb whilst I was away.

Saturday, January 3, 2009


HNY one and all, no posts from me until mid January as I'm taking some leave.