maps4news

Practicum Update – Maps4News and the advantages of the media sector for digital historians.

This update on the practicum is concerned with the continuing development of the Dublin Culture map and the discovery of new tools which greatly benefit the development. The inspiration from this post came from an interview I conducted with the PR team of the mapping tool Maps4News, based in the Netherlands. The aforementioned tool is utilised primarily by newspapers and news sites to create quick, clear and effective maps that allow them to remove street names, place colour coordinated pins onto the map and place embedded video links and jpegs inside these pins. The team were surprised to discover the reasoning behind our usage of the tool but were quite happy to hear our opinions on it. To quote the site’s blurb ‘Maps4News does not deliver maps, we develop and deliver mapping solutions.’(2015, Online) This blog post will discuss some of these solutions below with regards our cultural mapping project.

The ability to place pins is rather universal, the previous blog post covers this information in detail with regards to 7scenes and Mapbox, yet the ability to place related media within these pins is a boon to historical mapping. Granted, 7scenes allows this ability with regards to jpegs, but the ability to place media and text on a non-cluttered display is hugely advantageous. Likewise the ability to change street names is well suited to this project. Dublin culture mapping relies upon the old names of imperial Dublin wherein locations such as O’Connell Street must become Sackville Street. Thus, we can replicate the original Ordnance Survey Map of 1911 in digital without the need to digitise and procure copyright for the material. These different features can exist as layers upon the initial map. This is the feature with the most potential for the practicum; we can layer culture, urban conflict, commerce and other features individually. As such we can avoid overwhelming the user with pins, media and coordinates and let them search through the layers as they see fit. Furthermore, Maps4News allows a developer to import addresses and locations via csv, kml and gpx files. In our own experience with mapping Dublin, one of the larger challenges is placing pins on geographical accurate locations, especially on the Google Earth platform due to the limitations of street view. The ability to import addresses allows us to work side by side with historical sources such as Thom’s directory (what’s what and who’s who of Dublin businesses) to create a database and then allow the tool to place the pins rather than painstakingly place them ourselves.

dublin

One of the OS maps of Dublin that the project will use. Maps4News allows us to take a contemporary digital map of Dublin and change street names, draw on the tram lines and identity property and addresses via spreadsheet upload.

As one can see, Maps4news provides useful avenues for the proposal stage of this project as it allows us to take shortcuts to presenting an effective demo build. The’ custom created maps are copyright-free for all your uses, including print, media and online.’ It must be noted that this is a commercial tool that requires a licence. At time of writing the project’s trial of the tool has run its course and we are currently unable to access our maps and therefore our screenshots. The PR team have assured us that our material is safe on the cloud however should we decide to purchase a licence. For the purpose of this practicum, the trial run has provided the required information for the upcoming practicum whitepaper. While the project has utilised the open source tool Mapbox to this point, it is becoming clear that there is only so much that can be done without purchasing a dedicated tool. For our project to progress to the next stage while managing to sidestep certain boundaries and would be shortfalls, such as copyright, purchasing a licence for this tool may be required.

To return to the theme of this blog post, it is clear to see the potential of Maps4News for historical mapping. It is worth noting again that the PR team of the Maps4News were surprised to discover the rationale behind our usage of the site, university research was not one of their intended vectors when developing the tool. As discussed above, the tool possesses a wide variety of advantages over similar mapping tools, at least those that have been utilised within this practicum. It is true that necessity is the mother of invention and with the current swathe of cultural mapping projects such a usage of the tool will come as less of a surprise to the developers. Throughout its development this project has been piggybacking off other industries in order to present its data; 7Scenes is a tourism application, Maps4News is a journalistic tool whereas Mapbox is considered for urban planning. Yet all present unique and powerful opportunities to the historian. As the title of this post suggests, the needs of the media industry in delivering to a far more tech savvy audience meets those of the digital humanities. These tools are designed to be efficient and easy to use so as to allow journalists to meet their deadlines. One useful by product of this is that it allows for quick yet efficient visualisations that bypass the need to learn complex new tools such as GIS software.

Despite how powerful this tool is the final version of the Dublin Cultural map will be developed with GIS software such as QGIS, we simply cannot contemplate how much data is required yet nor what limitations Maps4News may have. It does allow us to complete a much more visually impressive model for the alpha build which will allow us a stable platform from which to begin closed testing of the map. The delivery date for the alpha and the whitepaper is fast approaching, as you can see the project is advancing in step alongside it. One can expect a final blog post to accompany the alpha sometime in late May.

Further Reading:

Hurme, Maija, Heselius, Bjorn. Maps4News: no need for panic calls. (2015) SNDS Magazine, pp.28-29

Mapbox (2015) Web, available at https://www.mapbox.com/
(Accessed on 08/04/15)

Maps4News. Blogs. (2015) available online at http://maps4news.com/blog/
(Accessed on 08/04/15)

7Scenes (2015) Web, available at http://7scenes.com/
(Accessed on 06/04/15)

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