FOWA pre-interview: Andrew Turner

By Simon Willison, Program Chair, Developer Track

We have an exciting line-up of speakers for this year’s FOWA. I’m going to be posting interviews with some of them as a preview to their talks. First up is Andrew Turner, co-founder of Mapufacture and author of O’Reilly’s Introduction to Neogeography. Andrew will be presenting “Beyond Google Maps” at 1:50pm on Friday the 10th of October.

These days absolutely anyone can add a Google or Yahoo! Map to their site. What can developers do to differentiate their applications from the masses?

The ability for anyone to easily add a map to their site or application has been revolutionary. Quickly developers have been able to integrate very basic geographic visualization and interfaces. However, as with any tool, users quickly run into the limits and rarely extend beyond the basic feature set. This has resulted in a plethora of sites that have all the same looking maps, with red dots, or at best slightly customized point marker sets.

What needs to happen is for developers to take control and responsibility for their maps in sites as much as they would any other component. It is already recognized as a bad idea to drop in various unstyled widgets with disparate interfaces. This ruins the usability and overall concept of a site. Therefore, the same standards should be applied to geographic representations and interfaces. We’ll soon be seeing a number of tools, as well as general concepts and resurgence of some traditional cartography in the design of web maps.

How do freely available online mapping tools shape up in comparison to the expensive GIS toolkits used by the professionals?

Generally, the online mapping tools are easier to use, free (or cheap), and fulfil a large basic feature set that most users will find satisfactory. By comparison, advanced GIS tools provide better access to complex analysis and rendering capabilities. This is often at the cost of ease of use as well as a lack of an easy way to share the results. In the future there will be a convergence of the two, with online mapping tools providing similar functionality, or even connecting to, GIS backend tools. In addition, GIS tools can work with web mapping applications to allow users to publish their data to services using open interfaces and data formats.

What would you consider to be neogeography’s best kept secret?

That Neogeography is not about traditional GIS versus Web-based or new mapping tools, nor is it about Professional versus Amateur. It is about an entirely different realm and focus of geographic data collection, valuation, and utilization. These tools have the ability to play a role in neogeography, but do not define the discipline.

What geo-web projects have most inspired you over the past year?

Honestly, GeoCommons – this is a big reason why Mapufacture decided to join up with their team. They have developed a revolutionary platform that will push the current boundaries of online mapping and GeoWeb data.

Besides that, EveryBlock has done an incredible amount to leverage open-source Geo tools to provide a user-friendly and design-rich application.

OpenStreetMap continues to amaze me with the growth of the community, quality of the tools, and increasing likelihood of a fully mapped, and open dataset for the world. It is beginning to move from primarily data collection to fill in a blank map, to data maintenance and correction – a daunting new challenge. In addition, now that the data is available developers can move past that difficult problem and are beginning to address new domains: collaborative routing, disaster response, customized cartography, and data federation.

What are your favourite sources of geographical data?

GeoNames.org, Flickr, GeoCommons Finder!, Google Search: filetype:kml OR filetype:kmz

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