Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Map in Progress, thoughts on Paper and Animation

Over at Axis maps they posted an animation of a paper map they were asked to do.

The animation shows the map in progress, each step of picking the right font, color for the water etc. It's a nice reminder of how much better maps can be made by the application of time and expertise.

Paper Supported by Google Earth: The map was for a group of hotels and was designed to be printed. I'm fully in favor of still using paper maps in these sorts of situations but I wondered if instead of just giving guest the map you could produce an animation of the layers of the map in a Google Earth tour. So you would first fly the guest into the area then reveal placemarks of important points one by one with labels. This would be shown on a video loop in the foyer and could be used to help guests see what they can do with the paper map and what is in the vicinity of the hotel.

Friday, March 27, 2009

Snapshot View Captures Historical Data

I made an interesting discovery last week of how to snapshot a view of historical imagery. Select the clock icon on the button bar in Google Earth then open this placemark:

It shows the rainforest as it was in 1975. Turn the clock off to see what it is today.

To do this for yourself:
1 - turn on historical data (the clock icon)
2 - Find a view in Google Earth that is of interest to you. Using the historical data slider in the top left of the screen, choose a time.
3 - Create a placemark, give it a sensible name and click OK
4 - right click the placemark in the main screen and select 'Snapshot View'. The view angle/distance/direction you are looking at will be captured as will the time of the historical view you are currently viewing.
5 - right click the placemark again and select 'save place as'. Save it somewhere.

If someone else turns on historical data and then opens your saved placemark they will be flown to your view and the correct time will be chosen.


Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Less Programming with Google Earth

Andy of Digital Urban is at the American Association of Geographers conference from where he writes about an education project using Google Maps.

What I wonder is why the author spent all that time programming these pages rather than just collating them in GEarth and getting the students to analyse the data within GEarth? It certainly would have saved him a lot of time and I think putting some of the images in pop up balloons would have made better sense. Having said that, There is an issue of running GEarth on student machines - GMaps is lighter on computing power which may be important for the students concerned.

Andy notes that GEarth, GMaps and neo-geography are still niche areas of discussion at the conference. I've been to AGU fall meeting for the last couple of years and its got a much higher profile there.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Label Type Experimenting with TypeBrewer

Last year I wrote a post about using overlays as lables in GEarth. This was partly in response to the fact that GEarth will allow you to change the size of a label font but not the font type, spacing between letters (known as tracking).

I've just come across TypeBrewer from Axis maps who were partly responsible for the excellent GeoCommons Maker! (previous post) and ColorBrewer (previous post). It gives you background information on how to put text on maps and also lets you play around with variables to see how different fonts work on maps.

I shall be exploring the Axis maps site in the future I think, lots of interesting stuff there.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Uk Street View Launched, Regions Functionality

Via Frank at Google Earth Blog I am excited to see Street View for the UK launched. He also has the story on how user photos have now been incorporated in Google Maps. I agree with him that the way photos have been geotagged and sorted for viewing angle is excellent. You have to hand it to Google, this is a great implementation. What photos in streeview represent is complex but the interface is slick and well designed so you can just dive in and make it work.

Street View in GEarth: Its been blogged elsewhere but I think its worth mentioning again: Moving to Google Earth, click the street view layer and you are offered panoramic views around the UK. Want to put a view on your website? Simply click the panorma and you are offered an option to view in Google Maps or embed in your website. Choose 'embed' copy the code offered and voila, an impressive offering as below.

View Larger Map

Itchen bridge view: Two things to note about this view:
  • I use Southampton as a case study in what will happen if the Greenland icecap melts with students at Southampton University. Most of what you see around the bridge will be flooded if the icecap melts.
  • The blanked out sign you can see on the side (blanked out by Google by the way) tells people they can phone the Samaritans on the phone (in the blue box) if they are considering committing suicide. Last time I drove over this bridge someone was being talked down from a suicide attempt.
Regions Functionality: Its becoming one of my pet topics (previous post) but there is an interesting difference between how GEarth and GMaps inform you that there is Streeview content in an area.

Comparison of how streetview content is marked by GEarth (left) and GMaps (right) in Southampton.

The image on the left shows, GEarth photo placemarks around Southampton. As with other content, the regions functionality is used to keep the screen clear, zoom in and more photo placemarks will appear you can view. On the right is the view of Southampton in GMaps if you pick the orange man icon up and begin dragging him (I've highlighted him in orange). Polygon data shows exactly where there is streetview content on the ground. The GMaps technique is more intuiative and its easier to see exactly where the content lies.

Monday, March 16, 2009

Outreach Tour Tutorial

Via Google Earth Blog I came across the Google Outreach Tutorial on using Tour.

Work Flow Advice: The most interesting thing they say is that you can record a silent tour then come back and add narration later. This is very useful, I have found it tricky to navigate around in GEarth while talking to record an audio tour. By recording the tour first and adding the narration second you can make both better.

Save all your elements: However, I don't think they stress an important point: if you record a tour where you use elements such as placemarks and ground overlays you must save these together with the tour in the .kmz otherwise when your users try and run the tour GEarth will be looking for elements that are only on your computer and it won't work.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Sub Prime Mortgages Map: Great Design

A Wonderful Solution to Scale issue: Matthew Bloch and Ford Fessenden have a wonderful example of dealing with scale issues: Subprime Mortgages in the New York Region. Use the scale map on the right to zoom right out and rolling over areas will automatically select counties. Double click and you zoom in, rollover now activates sub county areas. Intuitive and slick.

Other Points about the Subprime Map I like:
  • The key is a sensible blend of colors from covering large areas: pastel shades and a sensible set of colors.
  • The key uses rounded data bins (i.e. 40 - 50% rather than 41.234 - 62.766)
  • You inspect data by rolling over rather than having to click on and off
  • The double map system for navigation works well
  • It uses simple color to distinguish values rather than prism height.
  • The data in the pop up balloon equivalent is a very simple 3 variables. People often pack too much into pop up balloons like these.
  • It has links to 3 popular views on the right. Helpful and good to keep that list short.
Minor Problems:
  • Being able to toggle satellite data on and off may help with helping users see where they are.
  • The counties are labeled in upper case, mixed case is easier to read.
  • There is some sort of flash based vector problem with edge views of the polygons.
But overall, this is the best interactive web map I can remember seeing. Well done!

Regions: Hunting Moby Dick

So I've talked before about the regions feature, it can be used to hide content until a user flies in closely. This is clever but not if there isn't a visual signal that the hidden content exists while the user is at altitude.

Open the Ocean layer in the layers panel of Google Earth 5.0 and click oceans. A mass of content will open and if you fly somewhere like Hawaii you will see an image on screen like this:

Lots of content is visible which is good. Fly out and to deal with all the placemarks crowding the view, the regions feature kicks in and you will see content disappearing. This creates the hidden treasure problem, I don't know anything is there until I fly in to see it. This isn't too much of an issue if I just want to see what is in Hawaii as I'll probably fly close to take a look but what if I want to see what is in a particular sublayer of Oceans?

A Sublayer Hidden at Altitude: Say I want to see what the BBC layer oceans layer has in it around the whole world. If I turn it on whilst I'm at high altitude (on my system, at 5,000km), leaving all the other layers off, nothing will appear. The novice user will be flummoxed, 'something isn't working' he'll think to himself, he'll probably give it a couple more on/off clicks just to check then give up in disgust. In this case the hidden treasure problem has become vital and ironically, the regions feature isn't serving any useful purpose as crowding isn't any issue with only one sublayer visible.

The Solution: A square buffer polygon (i.e. four points to calculate and render), semi transparent and filled, around any placemark content of any layer selected whilst the regions feature is hiding content. Where the squares overlap, the polygons for each placemark coalesce which cuts down rendering time. With only one sublayer visible you could just turn off the regions feature of course but I suspect this would be more difficult to implement.

In a sister post to this one also posted today I follow up with a great example of dealing with similar scale issues.

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Map Pins plus Web 2.0 sucks

Mano Marks and Pamela Fox both twittered about a competition to create a new style of map pin over at 99designs. Here's a screen shot of one entry:

If you didn't know, that effect that makes it look like a reflective curved surface is the 'web 2.0 look', this style is common amongst the entries to the competition.

Pros: Applying this look has the effect of impressing your audience that you've produced a professional looking design (I have tried to produce it myself, getting it to look like this is no easy business) and also that you're using the latest fashionable look. In any GeoWeb context this is important: studies have shown that people are more forgiving of minor web page malfunctions when the overall look is professional.

Cons: Icons work well on normal web pages as they are plotted over plain background, the designer can make the icon complex by applying a web 2.0 look without compromising the ability of the eye to locate it and identify it. However, a map pin can appear against any background which means your visual system needs to work fairly hard to even pick the icon out against the background. Try finding the beige circles on the left of this image which I captured from a view of Scotland in Google Earth:

tough isn't it? (BTW there's 4). If a designer applies a web 2.0 look to an icon in a web map your visual system has to work hard even to resolving the map pin against the background. Its better to compromise some of the professional look and use a simple icon with a simple white/black halo as I've used on the right here.

Aside: This doesn't mean you should always use very simple shapes such as circles, meaningful icons such as a simple elephant icon to denote an elephant have lots of advantages.

Exception: If the base map is a simple street map with plain colors then applying a complex design to your icons becomes possible again.

Google Default Icons: These have a similar web 2.0 look. They're consistent with the google maps icon set which is good, but IMHO a different, visually simpler set would be better for use in Google Earth.