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July 20 2011

14:31

Dotspotting + Embeds = Great Maps of Prisons, Crime, Pavement Dots

There are three basic parts to working with online representations of urban civic data in Dotspotting: collating the data, manipulating it, and then sharing and publishing it. Up until now, we've been focused on the first two, which makes sense. Obviously you need to be able to gather and work with the data before you can share it.

Today we're announcing the inclusion of the project's most requested feature: embedding the maps that people make into sites of their own.

Dotspotting makes tools to help people gather data about cities and make that information more legible. It's the first project Stamen released as part of Citytracking, a project funded by the Knight News Challenge.

Dotspotting's "embed/export" feature has been reworked to include the ability to generate HTML code that you can configure to your own specs, depending on how your site is formatted. Basic embed code is available in default mode, which will generate a map that looks pretty much the way it does on Dotspotting:

California state prisons on Dotspotting

There are a couple of different options in embed; so, for example, you can swap out the normal toner cartography for Bing's new (awesome) map tiles:

California state prisons on Dotspotting

We've been working with Mission Local, a news organization that reports on our home base of the Mission District, to find ways to take the lessons learned from the Crimespotting project and give this ability to local publications and advocates. The crime theme we've developed with them lets you generate maps that look like the one below, if you provide a "crime type" value in your data:

Crime June 21-28 updated on Dotspotting

And my favorite so far is the photo theme, which takes a "flickr:id" or "photo_url" field from your data (say, a set on flickr) and generates a visual mapping of where the photos are:

Dots on the pavement from flickr on Dotspotting

We're planning on releasing more of these as time goes by; if you've got ideas for a theme you'd like to see, please upload some data and get in touch!

June 17 2010

18:00

Knight News Challenge: Winner wants to create tools that are “beautiful, interesting, accessible”

The biggest winner in the 2010 Knight News Challenge, City Tracking, wants to give cities an open framework to tell their stories and for users to easily share and discuss them.

Eric Rodenbeck, of the San Francisco design firm Stamen, wants to build data visualizations that are as compelling and user-friendly as photos or videos. “We want visualizations to be as easy to share and move around as a photo on Flickr,” Rodenbeck said. He hopes cities, journalists and locals will all use the end product.

Rodenbeck thinks there is both a great need for communities to better tell data-driven stories and a need for an open platform tool to tell them. He wants his tools to be “beautiful, interesting, and useful.” Google Maps is great, but it’s not in the public domain. “We’re finding that a lot of the tools that were out there are either really techy, or somebody else owns your data,” Rodenbeck told me. “We wanted to find that middle ground.”

To get an idea of the type of work that could come out of this new platform, take a look at Crimespotting. It’s a project Stamen started in Oakland that pulled public crime data into an interactive map. The city of San Francisco decided to create it’s own version. The tool lets users sign up for RSS feed updates and email alerts about their local communities. It also tells a bigger story about crime by plotting incidences on the map. It’s also nice looking and user friendly. “Tackling the kind of design aesthetic that a project like Crimespotting has, and extending it, is a huge part of it,” Rodenbeck told me in describing City Tracking.

Rodenbeck gave a more hypothetical example as well. An acquaintance of his wants to measure a local river’s temperature at various points, using input from other locals. Right now, there is no simple tool to power that project. It’s the kind of thing Rodenbeck would hope City Tracker would allow non-techies to do easily.

Like other Knight News Challenge winners this year, City Tracking is about presenting public information in a compelling, interactive format, rather than creating new news per se. At it’s core, the project is about engaging a community and getting residents thinking, talking and sharing. “I think we also want to encourage other kinds of conversations. Conversations about trees. Conversations about cabs. Conversations about pollution,” Rodenbeck said.

By that same token, Rodenbeck is eager for discussion while building the project. “What we don’t want to do is develop this in isolation. We want to announce it in small pieces. We’re really hoping to encourage the participation of other developers in the project. We don’t want to just be working away alone in our room, nerding away on our map projects.”

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