GitHub for cartographers

“GitHub is a web-based hosting service for software development projects that use the Git revision control system. GitHub offers both paid plans for private repositories, and free accounts for open source projects.” - Wikipedia

So, I’ve only recently discovered the potential for cartographers to use GitHub.

On the face of it, GitHub is a platform for sharing source code and collaborating with others on projects – seemingly an exclusive club for coders – but I have discovered that this is simply not the case – there is much more to it and anyone can use it to share almost anything online.

Some cartographers have been using it for years now to share map-making resources; from symbols to software source code. As examples, the OpenStreetMap community are very active on GitHub and the UK QGIS User Group use it to share and collaborate.

My own experiences

When I first started looking into using GitHub myself, I came across this great article by Lauren Orsini on readwrite. The title ‘Don’t get scared, get started’ appealed to me as it summed up my sentiments at the time, and a line in the opening paragraph really jumped out to me; “Because it’s a social network that has completely changed the way we work.” Now social networks are something I’m familiar with – like most people nowadays, I use them regularly. This made GitHub seem immediately more approachable to me and I began thinking about it in a new light.

Once you start using it, you can see how the concept is similar to Facebook –  if you just replace ‘posts/photos’ with ‘files’ and ‘friends’ with ‘fellow geeks’. You can follow others and even star (Like) other peoples ‘files’. GitHub can be used to share all types of files, from PNG icons to geoJSON and CSV. It will store binary files (not text) happily alongside any code so you can share things like ESRI Shapefiles (.shp), True Type Fonts (.ttf), Bitmaps (.bmp) etc.

So, I have recently used it to share cartographic stylesheets, both at work (lots more to come) and personally. I am also currently working on some QGIS stylesheets (QML) for use with OSM Shapefiles from Geofabrik.

I use GitHub for Windows which makes it really easy to get files online straight from your desktop. The version control is really good and fully automatic. It maintains a snapshot of all your commits so you can always access previous versions of your work.

Some cool stuff…

Another awesome feature of GitHub is that it renders GeoJSON automatically on to a nice, interactive MapBox map and these are now diffable and customisable. This is really powerful for open geodata.

Here are some more examples of how GitHub is being used to share cartogarphic stylesheets:

Ross McDonald’s QGIS stylesheets (QML)

A CartoCSS template for OSM from MapBox

Standard OSM style re-implemented in CartoCSS

Carto Hack Camp

Ordnance Survey are running a hack day event for cartography!!

This unique event is on the 20th February 2014 and the winner will be offered a 6 to 9 week paid internship – a chance to work in the OS CartoDesign team!

See HERE for more details and sign up HERE

If you have any questions about the event then please email:

Carto Hack Camp
Carto Hack Camp

The art of cartography

Many definitions of cartography refer to it as a mix of science and art. This post will focus on the art element.

The artistic side of cartography is what attracted me to it as a career path – it is a method of visual communication through which you can exercise your creativity. It is the creative process that I really enjoy – taking something from an idea right through to completion.

There is no such thing as right or wrong with regard to maps – they are an interpretation of geographic phenomena which can be either accurate or pure fantasy. There are strong links between the worlds of art and cartography and some of my favourite map designs sit in this space.

This article has some great examples of ‘creative cartography’ from 15 artists

Here are some examples of artistic maps that I have enjoyed recently:

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Yarr, Pirate Maps

Stamen Maps – Watercolour

Below The Boat

You can also find more examples on my pin board

2/8/2013Just found this article with some awesome examples of map art

Small data

‘Big data’ is a current technology trend. It is a new industry in itself and concerns the capture, storage,search, sharing, transfer, analysis,and visualisation of large and complex datasets.

“90% of the data in the world today has been created in the last two years alone.” – IBM

One of the challenges with big data is visualisation – how do you visualise such vast amounts of data and make it legible and useful? The geospatial industry has an obvious role to play here and lots of companies have been set up to answer such questions with CartoDB being one good example.

Maps showing large datasets are getting a lot of publicity (I have posted quite a few in previous posts) so I wanted to just showcase a few great maps which depict either a single theme or  a small amount of data…

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You can see more maps that I pin here

Maptember is fast approaching

Maptember is fast approaching…

Consisting of 15 map-related events, September is crammed full of great geo and carto events all taking place in Great Britain. Geo professionals from every corner of the globe will converge to our shores to share knowledge about many map related topics.

I’ll be missing it all as baby Glynn number 2 is imminent but my CartoDesign colleagues are participating in 3 of the events, including 2 of the ‘headliners’  – AGI Geocommunity ’13, FOSS4G 2013 and the British Cartographic Society’s Annual Symposium.

We have entered a few maps of our own into the various galleries and awards. Here are a few of mine:

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If you are attending any of the Maptember events then I hope you have a fantastic time. It’s a really exciting time to be involved with mapping!

MapBox: Carto awesomeness

MapBox is awesome!

Since being founded in 2010 the company has quickly become a poster-boy for online mapping, especially where OpenStreetMap is concerned. With their tagline ‘Fast and beautiful maps’ and their dedication to using and developing open source software and open data, MapBox is now one of the most talked-about brands in the mapping industry.

I believe that a big reason for this rapid rise to awesomeness is their commitment to design. High quality design is at the forefront of everything they do – from their great website and slick, intuitive UX to their beautifully crafted maps including MapBox Streets as used by Foursquare.

All tools developed by MapBox fit their brand identity and are easy-to-use, including TileMill, their open source map design studio. TileMill is somewhat revolutionary in its approach to map-making and sharing. Although its styling language, CartoCSS, is not the first of its kind it, it is certainly the finest example of CSS-based cartography and makes creating cool maps relatively simple, allowing Photoshop-like effects.

Map-making was, for many many years a specialist craft, largely dominated by National Mapping Agencies and other large cartography houses. With the recent boom of open source geo tools and open geodata, mapping has become democratised to the point where anyone with a computer and internet access can now make maps and carry out basic analytics.

MapBox have really embraced these recent developments and are continually pushing the boundaries. As a cartographer it is great to see a company that values cartographic design as a core asset. (It amazes me that so much GIS and web mapping software ignores quality design!)

I will continue to follow MapBox keenly and also use and recommend their mapping tools to fellow mapmakers.

Dark maps trending

Have you noticed the amount of maps with black or dark backgrounds that you see online these days!? It is a common trend to use light-on-dark to create a striking visual hierarchy and most of the maps that go viral tend to have adopted this style. I’m sure that has something to do with the aesthetic appeal and the initial impact of these maps. Using a dark background leaves room for many light colours which can create great contrast for any overlays that immediately become the maps focal feature as they often appear to glow.

Here are some examples:

The majority of traditional maps use white (or similar) as the background colour and this can be largely attributed to the distribution mechanism which would usually be paper. The majority of paper is white and it also brings cost savings with regard to ink usage – it wouldn’t be wise to smother a sheet of white paper with dark ink!

With modern mapping technologies and the internet as the main method for sharing maps, any print concerns that restricted design decisions in the past are no longer an issue. Many maps these days will never be printed, just pored over on PC screens and mobile devices.

There is something cool, aesthetically pleasing and eye-catching about dark maps.

It may just be that this bold technique portrays a certain element of rebellion – a refreshing break from tradition.

London: All mapped out

Last week my brother and I went to London to see Neil Young & Crazy Horse at the O2 Arena. The doors opened at 18:30 and we arrived in the capital via Waterloo station at 15:00, giving us a few hours to fill. Filling time in London is never a problem – there is so much to see and do and you can lose hours just soaking up the culture and people-watching. We decided to take a casual stroll along the southside of the River Thames, east towards Bank – after stopping for a couple of beers we ended up as far as London Bridge.

As a carto geek I do always keep an eye out for maps when out and about, but during our walk I was constantly struck by how many maps there were. I expected tube maps to adorn almost every wall of the underground stations and the fantastic pedestrian way-finding system known as Legible London, but in addition to those I saw a new map round nearly every corner we turned, and each had a unique, eye-catching design.

Now it shouldn’t really be too surprising in such a dense tourist trap to find maps as ‘The Big Smoke’ does resemble an urban maze and would otherwise be impossible to navigate, but I didn’t expect to see so many. It really drove home to me how location aware we are nowadays and how maps are well and truly engrained in the public consciousness. Since the advent of web mapping and the growth of location-aware mobile devices, maps have become ubiquitous in our society.

As a cartographer it was really great to see so many diverse examples of cartographic design and to witness the power of mapping – the power to keep a bustling city on the right path!

I have made a simple map using ‘OS VectorMap District – Full Colour raster’ to highlight the route that my brother and I walked:

Walk in London
Walk in London – click to enlarge

Rewarding excellence in cartographic design

Ordnance Survey are proud members of The British Cartographic Society (BCS) and have been sponsoring the society’s annual symposium for many years. Every year the CartoDesign team ensure that OS has a strong presence at the event, from providing an exhibition stand to presenting and hosting workshops.

OS have also provided an award since 2005 which until last year was titled ‘The Ordnance Survey MasterMap Award for Better Mapping’ and aimed to “encourage innovative and stimulating map products derived from, and composed mainly of, Ordnance Survey’s MasterMap data.”

This award ran for 8 successful years in which time a diverse range of entries were rewarded.

This year welcomes a change to the format of the Ordnance Survey Award. 2013 is the debut year for ‘ The OS OpenData Award‘ that seeks “to encourage excellence in cartographic design and the innovative and exciting use of OS OpenData.”

Enter HERE before the end of July.

This award is open to anyone, anywhere, whether or not you are a member of BCS. All you need to do is enter a map that is comprised of at least one OS OpenData product and there is an obvious focus on cartographic design.

As an extra incentive the winner will receive an Apple iPad! So…what are you waiting for? Go HERE to grab your free-to-use data and make a cool mapsterpiece!

To see examples of OS OpenData in use take a look at the showcase HERE

I am a big fan of the iCoast basemap which is made using OS VectorMap District and a unique colour palette…

iCoast - Explore the Dorset coast
iCoast – Explore the Dorset coast