Custom Maps

How I went from being a map blogger to a map maker by just realizing that I love to make custom maps for myself and others.

I always thought of myself as an urban planner anytime I encountered something while driving that didn’t make sense. I used to wish I could change city streets the way you can in Sim City or Sid Meier’s Civilization.

When I worked for other companies I’d make maps of where people sat, where restaurants were located, or branch locations. I was rarely, if ever asked to do these things. I just did them.

As a business analyst, I created many intricate spreadsheets to turn data into usable information that could be shared. Our output was often compared to a map, maps being Edward Tufte’s standard of visual simplicity and design. When I visualized spreadsheet data, I was really making customized maps.

As an IT worker, I created intricate network diagrams of all of our client’s computer setups, which were really just customized maps.

When I finally came to realize that making maps was what I was most interested in, I learned that it was also the lens through which I viewed the world. I created maps in my mind to help me understand the world.

This past weekend I attended The Combine in Bloomington, Indiana. Merlin Mann of 43 Folders was the headliner. Before I left I created the map you see below:

It’s nothing special, just some information from a schedule laid over a Google Map screenshot. The reason I’m showing it is because no one told me to make it, I made it for myself to use at the Conference. I made a map so that I could better understand the material. It’s the same thing I did when I was a business analyst in the banking industry. I made maps of information so executives could make better decisions. In IT I made maps of information so that problems could be solved faster and so everyone could be on the same page as to how a system was setup. No one argues that the United States is located in between Mexico and Canada because maps tell us this is true. Maps make data obvious. They tell a story. They matter. And I care about them. That’s why I like making custom maps.

Map Design Resources

For those interested in map making design, you might enjoy reading Gretchen Peterson’s blog. Gretchen also wrote GIS Cartography: A Guide to Effective Map Design. I’m currently in the process of learning TileMill from MapBox, but may also try MapTiler.

Geospatial Providers for GIS

GIS stands for “Geographic Information System”, which is a technology that allows the user to produce and interact with many types of maps. This is a list of geospatial providers that use GIS.

GIS Geospatial ProvidersEsri: Tools and data by the company that helped develop geospatial information systems, Esri is firmly entrenched in government IT shops where they help make decisions based on GIS data about the environment.

GeoData.gov: Data clearinghouse This government site features lists of the many local and federal sources of data like climate, coasts, conservation, environment, geology, hazards, hydrology, topo maps, weather, and wildfires.

Google: Google Maps is only five years old. It shot to prominence quickly by making geospatial data a household commodity, by facilitating mashups that brought geospatial apps to the masses. Need information on Google Maps query strings?

Navteq: Data provider One of the “big two” (Tele Atlas) for geospatial data, Chicago-based Navteq is considered by some to be the main provider of geospatial data in the United States.

OpenGeo: Open source GIS OpenGeo’s business model, like many open source-focused organizations, is to sell support around open source offerings it maintains.

OpenStreetMap: Crowdsourced map data It describes itself as “a free editable map of the whole world. It is made by people like you.” Think of it as Wikipedia for geographic data.

Pitney-Bowes Business Insight: Pitney-Bowes is known for postage meters, but in 2007 it acquired MapInfo, for many years Esri’s top rival. It has put substantial resources behind MapInfo’s GIS software like MapInfo Professional 10.5 (Learn the latest features and functions).

Pushpin: Map tools Pushpin’s JavaScript API for embedding maps into any Web site got really interesting in 2009, when Placespace was acquired by Apple. The move was seen as Apple reducing its dependency on Google for geospatial software.

Tele Atlas: Data provider The other “big two” (Navteq was the other one) of geospatial data, Netherlands-based Tele Atlas has been in business for over 20 years, with substantial expertise in Europe and Asia.

GPS Devices at Pilot vs. Amazon vs. Waze

GPS devices at Pilot range from $299 to $449 with two models for $349. They also have the new Monster Rehab, which is Iced Tea, Lemonade, and Energy in a can with a black-top lid. It’s delicious. Another thing I saw there was a new type of Dorito-type chip called Tias, which looked delicious, but I didn’t buy any. I did buy two Monster Rehabs though because they are so delicious. It’s probably better than all energy drinks combined.

gps-devicesThese GPS devices are mostly for navigation – for truckers and other travelers. Most of them are dash-mountable, but that’s because they don’t have birthing bays to lay in. The GPS navigators sold at Pilot include Garmin, Cobra, and Rand McNally. Compare these prices to the ones found at Amazon.com:  a Garmin nüvi 1450LMT 5-Inch Portable GPS Navigator with Lifetime Map & Traffic Updates is $179, a Cobra NAV One 5000 5-inch Bluetooth Portable GPS Navigator is $425, and a Rand McNally 528881469 7-inch Intelliroute TND 700 Truck GPS is $499.

In most cases it makes more sense to get your energy drinks from Pilot and your GPS devices from Amazon, but if you have a smart phone, check out Waze.

Waze: Free GPS Navigation App for Android

Waze GPS is a free turn-by-turn GPS navigation app with user-generated, real-time traffic updates and social networking elements. It’s the first dynamic traffic platform which combines GPS, open-source software, and a community of drivers.

Waze users share real-time information on quickly changing, dynamic road conditions such as slow traffic, road-blocking accidents, police speed traps, and construction. Waze collects this information, analyzes it, and gives Waze drivers the most optimal routes to their destinations, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.

Waze is a Not Just an Android App, It’s a Smart App

Commuters normally can drive more than one route to arrive at their destinations, but without information, they don’t really know which route is best at any given moment? With Waze, you just enter your beginning and destination addresses, drive three to four times along different routes, and Waze creates the most time-efficient route for that moment in time – saving you time and money.

How Waze Uses Social Networking

Drivers using Waze can easily join or create groups, allowing members to view each other on the map and communicate with each another while on the road. Use Twitter to tweet your activities to your followers on Waze, and connect to Facebook to see all of your Waze-using Facebook friends around you on the map.

Waze Free GPS NavigationYou will need A GPS-enabled Android smartphone and a data plan to receive and deliver real-time road information for your preferred route.

Here’s what one reviewer said, “My commute is rather long, so this app is very helpful. It learns your preferred routes. It tells you about problems, even on roads that aren’t monitored by fixed systems. It lets you report problems you encounter. Map corrections are completed within a day or two of being reported, and you get an email when a problem you reported has been corrected. I run it any time I’m driving, even when I don’t need directions,” while another said, “This is the only app I can’t go a day without. I love being able to see a user’s report on an accident/hazard ahead and now understand why traffic is not moving. Routes are sometimes off a bit, but as more people use this the better they will get.”