Thursday, March 31, 2011

Street View in Tours: Ancient Rome

AFAIK I was the first blogger to spot that the new GEarth tours in GE6 supported streetview. I still think this a great bit of functionality and I'm surprised I haven't seen it popping up more. Today I came across yesterday's blog post by Google about how their streetview trike has been capturing imagery of historic European sites (what a cool job that trike operator must have), really clever use of the technology but I was interested in the way they presented the streeview examples: They linked out to GMaps instances of streetview from within the blog, three examples are shown here:


Imperial Forum

View Larger Map

Palantine Hill

It works and is impressive but this form of presentation is clunky if you wanted to see the relationship between sites in which case a GEarth tour becomes the media to choose. As an experiment I've produced these three sites in a GEarth tour, it's a bit rough but I think you can see my point about how this is a better way if the geographic relationship of the three sites is important.

to play in GEarth itself Rome Street View tour

Note I used the wrong forum site.

Good Design Points:
  • You'll note that by use of annotations for Rome, and a 'reference' square I give a sense of location and scale to the viewer.
  • Use of the square allows people to memorise the locations of the three sites as it acts as a strong landmark.
  • I return to high views between sites as this allows people to follow where they're being flown to.
  • I also customised the Colosseum views and tour path (by choosing a different high view) as in its original format the tour flew through the Colosseum walls - distracting for the viewer.
  • I make explicit remarks about how the user can pause the movie to look around and also about how fast the imagery is likely to be downloading. The former is necessary to encourage active use of a tour, most people will hit play and sit back if you don't actively suggest they could do something different. The comment about imagery download will help those on slow connections who may be thinking 'its not working' as all they can see is a pixelated sludge on screen.
Technical Points:
In KML you can control turning on and off streetview, the sunlight slider and historical imagery. It would be useful to be able to do the same for 3D buildings and roads. However, by using the Tour gadget to produce GEarth in a browser (as I did) you can control these layers without needing to code anything.

I also noted that streetview imagery is low resolution until you click pause at which point it sharpens up.

Friday, March 25, 2011

Old Maps of Africa in audio slideshow

Sorry for the lack of posts, work has been unexpectedly busy over the last 2 weeks.

Things about Africa you didn't know: The content is excellent, it explains where the name Africa comes from, explains why the Atlantic was originally known as the 'Black Man's Sea' and also makes an excellent point about the political power of maps: early maps showed the locations of tribes inland so the maps seemed full of people, later European maps showed empty spaces with color wash to indicate which European power controlled that area. People still lived there but the map makers wanted to show Africa as a blank land helping to justify their desires to colonise and exploit.

Simple Narrative is Effective: The presentation itself shows the power of simple, audio, slide show narration. There is no flashy 3D fly throughs, talking heads or 'cool' animated effects, just some music, audio description and the occasional annotation to draw the eye to the right location on the map. If you had just been given the maps as a set of layers to look at in GEarth you could have seen how the maps line up with current African geography but you would probably have missed the 'Ifrica' point they make, IMHO the narration adds a lot of value. Of course providing such a GEarth project after the presentation would have been fun as you would have got the best of both worlds: heard expert explanation but also been free to explore your own interests on the maps. This is an idea I've previously talked about in terms of GEarth tours and activities

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Fusion Tables for Volunteered Geographic Information (VGI)

VGI Background: There is a lot of discussion about Maps Crowdsourcing (or Volunteered Geographic Information - VGI) on the web at the moment. The excellent Geospatial Revolution clips are an example, this one discusses VGI as used by Open Street Map and Ushahidi in Haiti:

Note: Starts playing at relevant point in movie clip

I've just revamped a lecture for next week discussing VGI in depth and I wanted to get students to create and upload some VGI data but also to understand how to create a very simple VGI system. The solution was Google Fusion Tables.

Fusion Tables Background: For a while now I've heard Mano Marks amongst others pushing the geo capabilities of fusion tables (up coming where 2.0 example), this is the first time I've found an application for them. Neo-Geography is a term for all the new uses of interactive maps and map like visualisations appearing on the web, services like Google Maps, Google Earth are examples, they principally allow the public to visualise geographic data. What is so different about fusion tables is that they offer the ability not just to visualise but also to get into simple analysis of geographic data. Thus in Google Earth I can see Haitian refugee camps but with Fusion tables, it becomes easy to color code them by size. Fusion tables are also free and a lot more simple to operate than desktop GIS.

HowTo: Create VGI Thematic map: The following HowTo takes you through the steps of creating a database, uploading VGI data in the forms of polygons, defining a palette and outputting the result.

1] In GEarth digitise a number of polygons and give each of them a variable value (just 2 digits, no text) in the description box. E.g. I get students to digitise clumps of trees around Mt St Helens and give them a percentage tree cover value. Put all the polygons in a folder then save the folder as a KML file.

2] Go to the fusion tables site. If you do not already have a Google account you will need to set one up.

3] Click on File > New table > Import data > From this computer > Choose file, then upload your kml file. Click next then check the import columns include a 'description' column before clicking 'next' again to accept. Write a relevant description in the ‘Description’ box presented, then click Finish.

4] Your data should appear in a table with columns for description, name, and geometry. The Geometry column is the data Google Earth uses to draw each polygon, click on one of the kml labels to see the list of lat longs it uses.

5] Click on Visualize > Map. Your polygons should appear in a mashup using Google Maps, select ‘Satellite’ top right to see the true terrain. You will notice they are a default red at present. To create a simple thematic map we will apply a palette to the polygons colouring them a different colour depending on the percentage cover entered in GEarth.

6] Click on Visualize > Table to switch back to table view. Select Edit (on the menu bar) > Modify Columns > description > Type > Number > Save. This changes the percentages you entered in the GEarth description balloons from text to numeric values and you will see the description column right justify itself as a result.

7] Switch back to map view, now select Configure Styles (on the top of
the map) > Polygons, Fill colour > Buckets

Click the Radio button and on the pull down menu select 5 buckets. Select Column > description.
8] By default you have been given equal sized buckets (20% each), change them if you want. You should change the colours in the pull down menus on the right of the dialogue box to something appropriate. Click Save to apply this palette.

You should now see your palette displayed.

9] Now you have set up your VGI system, add others to the fusion table (share button top right of your fusion table web page > choose collaborators who can edit).

10] Get your volunteers to complete step [1] then access the fusion table and choose File > Import more rows to upload their own polygons.

Viola! A basic VGI system.

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

NeoCartography Commision and New Design Blog

A couple of developments passed through my inbox this week with the encouraging news that there a growing number of us interested in GeoWeb Usability or NeoCartography:

Linking neo-geographers and cartographers: Steve Chilton (who I interviewed on this blog in 2007 ) is the nominated chair of a proposed International Cartographers Association Commission on NeoCartography. The basic idea is to foster links between the communities of cartography and neogeography, I've just emailed Steve to add my own support as its clear to me that both communities have much to learn from one another.

An Italian Map Design Blog: Giacomo Andreucci from Bologna University emailed me to tell me he enjoys this blog (thanks) , has launched a new maps design blog and that he has produced his own variation of my (old!) list of 10 worst design errors . He has also produced a book which I can't comment on as its in Italian but he tells me he starts it with his own 10 design errors.