Kaart Çheerey - a Manx language map of the world

Kaart Çheerey - a Manx language map of the world
A Manx language map of the world - kaart.im

The month of September has been renamed to Maptember this year because of the number of geographic conferences that are going on. With the thought of a month of maps ahead, I decided to make a new map: a Manx language map of the world.

The map - known as a kaart çheerey in Manx - displays continents, countries and oceans that have been documented on the Manx language Wikipedia and visualises them as a browsable map which can be accessed at kaart.im.

My great grandparents were some of the last native speakers of the Manx language, and the language lost its last native speaker in 1974. In an effort to re-introduce the language to the island, Manx has been taught in schools on the Isle of Man since at least the early 1990s. Some children on the island are brought up as native Manx speakers (in addition to English) at the only Manx language school, Bunscoill Ghaelgagh. Manx translations can often be seen on road signs and other official signage, and can be heard on radio broadcasts and at the annual Tynwald Day ceremony.

I learned a bit of Manx at school, though not much of it has stuck with me. Because of that, I struggled a little to find all the names I wanted from the Manx Wikipedia, and I ended up simply searching for each country and seeing what was returned as the top result (or near the top). Often the names resemble the English version - especially if read out in a bit of a Manx accent - so it was usually obvious which article referred to the country. For example, Germany becomes Yn Ghermaan, Finland becomes Finnlynn and Canada becomes Yn Chanadey. Some smaller island nations didn't appear to have articles about them, but that there was an article for most countries in the world still struck me as quite impressive, for a language that is spoken fluently by such a small number of people.

The cartography on kaart.im could do with some tweaks still, but hopefully the map will be useful for anyone curious about this language from the heart of the British Isles. If you see any mistakes on the map, please let me know in the comments.

I'll likely be tweeting geographic things more often than usual this month @dankarran and may blog a little about the Society of Cartographers and FOSS4G conferences that I'll be attending as well.

A look at the OS OpenSpace API

OS OpenSpace Overview map
OS OpenSpace Overview map (© Crown Copyright)

This week I've spent a bit of time trying out the Ordnance Survey OpenSpace web mapping API for one of the projects I'm working on, and thought it'd be good to share some initial thoughts on it.

OpenSpace provides free access to a selection of Ordnance Survey maps for use in web projects. It was first released in 2008 as a way for non-commercial projects to use OS mapping, but has since widened its remit to allow commercial services to use the maps as well.

For a number of reasons, the OpenSpace API is different to other APIs I've worked with, and I think most of those differences are due to the fact that the API is produced by a national mapping agency rather than an international community or a corporation with international interests. In contrast to the other APIs that usually have at least some level of international mapping, you see at first glance with the OpenSpace overview map that it is focused solely on the United Kingdom.

This initial map, showing a shaded terrain view of the UK, ends just west of the border between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland, leaving the west coast of Ireland off the map completely. The rest of the world is just white pixels (no dragons!). Looking at this map, I can't help but feel that filling the space surrounding the UK with a bit of sea and at least basic land outlines would help with initial impressions.

As you zoom in to the map, you get served an OS map product most suited to each zoom level, from overview maps all the way down to maps that show simplified building outlines (see the list of layers for details). Each of the map products usually shows for two or three zoom levels before switching to a more appropriate one.

As the maps have been built over the years as discreet products, each one has its own distinctive style that was designed for a particular purpose (e.g. navigating the motorway network, finding your way around cities, or walking in the countryside), and was usually designed to be used as a print product rather than on-screen. Some of the newer products and layers in the OpenSpace API have been built specifically for the digital age as maps come to be used differently than in the past.

OS OpenSpace Overview map
Overview map (© Crown Copyright)
OS MiniScale map
MiniScale (© Crown Copyright)
OS 1:250k map
1:250,000 map (© Crown Copyright)

To me, the overview layers don't feel like they have been thought out as well as you might expect from a national mapping agency, with place name labelling appearing on the second and third zoom levels in a way that doesn't look very visually appealing, along with the cut-off edges that I mentioned earlier. Zoom in beyond those layers though, and you see the nice MiniScale map which is, as described by the OS, a clear and uncluttered national map. After a couple of levels of the MiniScale map, you switch to the 1:250,000 map that's designed to show towns, major roads, railway stations, and some places of interest. In London and other cities it can be quite overpowering, but elsewhere it can give a good overview.

OS 1:50,000 map
1:50,000 map (© Crown Copyright)
OS Vectormap District map
VectorMap District (© Crown Copyright)
OS StreetView map
StreetView map (© Crown Copyright)

The 1:50,000 map was designed as a printed map for leisure use. It looks good in cities and is like a work of art in rural areas. It's the last of the print-focused map layers before switching to map products that were designed specifically for the web. VectorMap District is a background map that you can overlay your own information on without it being drowned out by bright colours and too much information. The StreetView layer isn't as subtle but also leaves enough space to visualise your own information on top of.

Overall, there's a lot of variation between each of these map products, so combining them into a zoomable map doesn't create the seamless user experience that other online maps aim to. This may be something that improves over time, but as a set of products that are available freely as part of OS OpenData they don't directly make money for the Ordnance Survey, so progress may be slow.

I'm still planning to use OS OpenSpace for the project I'm working on, but I'll likely be using only a few of the more detailed layers that are suitable for background mapping, and custom building some less detailed, lighter maps for the smaller scales.

If you want to browse the OpenSpace maps, I've put together a quick OS OpenSpace map page over on the Geobits site.

Google Map Maker vs OpenStreetMap in the UK

Earlier this week Google announced that their Map Maker product was being launching in the UK. Map Maker lets users make changes to Google's popular Maps service, helping Google improve their map data with the assistance of the crowd. The product has been around since 2008, originally available only in countries that didn't really have any map data, and later expanding into countries that already had good coverage but could be improved with additional information.

Map Maker works in a similar way to the OpenStreetMap project (which started around 2006) in that they both let people edit the details on their respective map, but there are some noticeable differences between Map Maker and OpenStreetMap.

(I've been using and contributing to OpenStreetMap since the early days of the project, so I'm going to be biased towards it, but I think both Map Maker and OSM have things going for them.)

User base
As probably the most widely used map in the world, Google Maps has a large number of people looking at their maps for local information. Most of them have local knowledge about an area, and a very small percentage of them may want to help improve their local maps for their own benefit and for others. On the other hand, OpenStreetMap's user base is much smaller (though has been growing quickly for years), and for the most part consists only of those people who want to help build the maps. Both Google Maps and OpenStreetMap can be embedded into other websites, but the end users of those sites are unlikely to care about making updates to the map, it's only people who use Google Maps or OpenStreetMap directly who'd do that.

Editing a place in Google Maps means that your information is currently going to be seen by many more casual users than if you were to edit OpenStreetMap, but with the inclusion of OpenStreetMap data in many other projects (like Apple Maps, MapQuest, MapBox) there are also massive advantages to making sure the information is up to date in there too. If you're promoting your business, you should definitely make sure to add it to OpenStreetMap as well.

With any service where you're giving lots of unknown people a chance to share information that is visible to the public, you're likely to get people vandalising that information, whether it be accidentally, for a bit of fun, or for any other reason. Google Map Maker has a moderation feature which stops all edits being added to the map automatically, and only lets them through after they've been vetted by trusted users. OpenStreetMap doesn't have up-front moderation, but has tools in place to let users keep an eye on areas they know. Both approaches have their merits and disadvantages.

Editing interface and user experience
Google Map Maker welcome screenThe interface to Google Map Maker is designed to be easy to access when you're looking at a map (look out for the 'edit in Map Maker' link in the bottom right corner of the map) and makes it as simple as possible for people to add new places, edit existing ones (accurate business information is what Google is hoping for here), add roads, and review other peoples' edits. The interface is perhaps a bit more intuitive than OpenStreetMap might be for a new user at the moment, but some of that is because it has to cater for less technical users. OpenStreetMap is making efforts to improve this initial user experience too though, with improvements to the website and in particular the development of the new iD editor which aims to make editing simpler.

Using the maps and map data
Both Google Maps and OpenStreetMap can be embedded into your own website to show the location of your business, or to overlay whatever other information you'd like to display. With Google Maps you can change some of the styling, and choose to hide some of the information (with some technical know how), but you never have full control over what you're showing. If you want to show where your business is without also promoting your competitors, you're out of luck. With OpenStreetMap however, you can have complete control over what you show and what you don't, especially if you use a service like MapBox to customise your maps, or download any one of a number of opensource tools to build your maps exactly as you like.

Any information that you add into Google is owned by Google, and shown on a service that could in theory be withdrawn at any time (see Google Reader). Any information you add into OpenStreetMap is licensed freely for people to reuse as they like, so if you're adding information about your business into OSM, it's got the potential to be promoted much more widely than if it's just in Google Maps. The information in OSM will always be available to use as it's not dependent on any one commercial entity.

So, which should I use?
Personally, I'm happy to add some information into Google Maps, such as if I'm helping to promote a local business, but I'll also make sure that information is mirrored (and bettered) in OpenStreetMap. If I'm going to add in any sizable chunk of information, I'll just add that into OpenStreetMap as adding it into Google would be doing work for them for free without being able to reuse that information myself.

As an example, the maps below show Foxdale in the Isle of Man, in both Google Maps and OpenStreetMap. I help out with the online bits for some self-catering farm cottages in the village, so I've added their location and a bit of detail around the farm into Google Maps, but if you look in OpenStreetMap you'll see a lot more detail for the whole village as well.

Foxdale looks a bit bare in Google Maps, but check it out in OpenStreetMap:

Map of Foxdale, Isle of Man on OpenStreetMap

If this post has inspired you to add your business information into OpenStreetMap, check out this quick guide to adding your first point.

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