While I’m saving my actual project proposal for another posting that I will try to get up tomorrow prior to class, I wanted to share some things that I have been looking at over the past couple of weeks whilst researching/daydreaming about maps and some of the concepts related to maps.

I’ve found that the hardest part about this endeavor is figuring out how to think beyond google maps. Its difficult not to just think of some places or things that are interesting and related, and stick them onto a google map with those push-pin things and maybe add some photos or comments or links and then you’re done.  The problem is, its still just a google map with some superficial markings that you made; the creative part was done a long time ago by google programmers, not by you.  This is not to say that there aren’t some really interesting and even important work being done via google maps and google earth (and some silly yet still cool stuff, too); its just important to figure out just exactly what it is that takes these maps to the next level, so to speak.  While I am trying to move beyond Google conceptually, I think that its still a good place to start, if for nothing else, because my brain does seem to tend toward a conflation of “maps” and “google maps”.

So I am interested at this point in three things:

1. Things related to Google maps (I am using Google Maps as a sort of stand-in for the basic process I described above, that consists of merely placing interactive  markers onto a map) that take mapping to the “next level”

2. Things that have nothing to do with Google maps and aim to present either new kinds of information or to visualize existent information in a new way.

3. Things that don’t really have anything to do with maps at all, at least in the geographical sense.

I will lay out some examples of these things that I have come across recently.

First though, here is a short film about an artist who has been painstakingly constructing the same completely made-up map for the past 45 years.  He has only just put it on display for the first time recently at a gallery upstate: Growth and Decay

So now onto some Google Maps:

-I found this google-map derived site/experiement/playtime to be fun- like chatroulette but with places all over the world (though with less genuine surprise than chatroulette can provide). It basically sends you to a random street view somewhere in the world. My favorite place so far is santiago de Compostela, in Spain. It looks like the edge of the earth:

-This is a google earth plug-in that charts the floodwaters in Pakistan.  I imagine that this could be very useful to not only nearby residents, but also to family members abroad who have lost touch with people, or NGOs that are trying to provide relief services (and I imagine that much of the updating comes via NGOs): Pakistan Flood Maps (I also have a friend who has been working with the UN to develop mobile apps that relief workers can use to track populations in need of various services, or to allow people to post information about themselves in the wake of a natural disaster; I have to find out if that is up and running yet)

Ushahidi.  They explain themselves pretty well: The Ushahidi Platform allows anyone to gather distributed data via SMS, email or web and visualize it on a map or timeline. Our goal is to create the simplest way of aggregating information from the public for use in crisis response.

This notion of crowdsourcing to provide information in a crisis is a powerful one.  They have a related project, Swift River, which is an open source platform for aggregating and filtering news reports and direct-witness accounts of events.

– This one I found via the Google Earth Blog, which can be a very interesting resource to look at for ideas.  Why limit our thinking to things on the ground? Google Earth Satellites shows you where all of the satellites orbiting the earth are at any given moment (what one can do with this information is an open question).  Related is FlightRadar24 which lets you see real-time air traffic patterns.  I came across this in the wake of the volcano in Iceland last spring; I believe there is a feature that lets you run the flights like a time-lapse movie (though as you’ll notice, this site can really be a drain on your processor).

My second category is a tricky one to pin down, but here is an interesting example, which combines data with maps while adding an instantly understandable visual cues: topography and lights.  Doug McCune has taken crime statistics from the City of San francisco’s DataSF site and incorporated into visual presentations that show how much of a given crime occurs (or is reported at least) in the city and where it occurs.  It looks like he first visualized it as lights at night (this page has other examples, such as trees and traffic lights, too) and then got more detailed by showing it as a virtual topography (this one is especially nice, because SF is such a hilly city; I wonder what correspondence there is between crime and real topography).

And finally, I’ll move onto my third category.  These aren’t maps really at all, but use spatial-geographic concepts to represent information.

TextArc has always been a favorite project of mine, and sadly, it seems to have been dropped by its creators years ago, as far as I can tell (it advises using Netscape 6.2 or better as a browser).  What it does is lay out the entire text of a book, line by line, in a long arc, and then places a copy of each individual word in the center of the arc, it position determined by the “center of gravity”, shown as lines connecting the word to each instance of it in the book; the size of the word gets larger based on how often it is used.  For instance, in Alice In Wonderland, the word “Alice” is very large and almost in the exact center, because that word occurs both a high number of times, and evenly throughout the text.  The word “King” by contrast, is pushed to the upper left, because the King only appears in the closing chapters of the book.  An image here to help visualize.  Note that TextArc does still work, even without Netscape, but be prepared for your browser to crash eventually.

Information is Beautiful and Flowing Data (and perhaps more intriguing, Your Flowing Data) are great sites for seeing different ways to present data in a visual form.  These are not usually maps, but many of them have a map-like quality.  Your flowing data is sort of meant as an alternate diary that graphs your life based on the things you tweet, post on facebook, etc.  It can keep track of how often you talk about the weather, or your homework, or a given activity, and present it in a number of auto-generated charts and graphs.

Ok; sorry for such a long post (I didn’t have time to write anything shorter).  I will close with a few more miscellaneous items that DO relate to maps (or at least want to be related to maps).  I hope that some of these links are inspirational and/or useful.

Fallen Fruit (a resource for urban gleaners that has maps of various cities or neighborhoods showing where fruit trees are)

Google Transparency Report (this is a data set looking for a map; it shows Google traffic in various countries around the world.  Importantly, it can be used to see when and where data access is cut off by censors.  Go to “Iran” and “YouTube” and set the timeline to “Max” for a great example of this.  You can see youTube use climbing steadily in the late spring of 2009 only to be all but cut off after the disputed June 12 elections)

Rules for Biologically Inspired Adaptive Network Design (this paper/experiment draws parallels between biological communication/transport systems, and our own human-created networks and infrastructure systems.  They argue that network efficiencies can be adapted from biological systems)

Blue Force Tracking Tool (this is what the military uses in Iraq and Afghanistan to ideally keep track of themselves on the field of battle: a real-time mapping system that tracks not only your own position, but the positions of your allies)

-And finally: these are some great aerial/satellite images of suburban housing developments in Florida.  Enjoy