(Reprinted from A List Apart. Thanks Peter! Paul Smith is is a co-founder and developer at EveryBlock, see this blog post. He has been creating sites and applications on the Web since 1994. He’s also co-creator of the Election Day Advent Calendar, and a founding member of Friends of the Bloomingdale Trail. He lives in Chicago, Illinois.)
by PAUL SMITH
We live in the era of Google Maps. What started off as an impressive refresh of Mapquest-style maps now fuels web mashups. With APIs official and unofficial, Google Maps is simple enough for front-end designers to embed and for back-end programmers to target. Along the way to becoming nearly ubiquitous, it has played a major role in the “democratization of mapping.” For the practical developer who wants to add geospatial information to a site or application, the Google Maps API has been an easy call.
But, perhaps no longer. As websites mature and the demand for geographic applications grow, the old mashup arrangement is starting to chafe. Mapping components are more and more vital, and so we demand greater control, expressiveness, and functionality from them.
Fortunately, as in many aspects of internet technology, an ecology of open source online mapping tools has emerged alongside the market leader. It is now possible to replicate Google Maps’ functionality with open source software and produce high-quality mapping applications tailored to our design goals. The question becomes, then, how?
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One of the great things about online mapping is that it straddles the line between the artistry and communication of cartography, and the precision and programmability of GIS. You can produce great-looking maps that are highly functional and integrate smoothly with your application. It’s my hope that this article demystified the web map stack and will get you thinking about how you can take control of the maps in your site.
There are many open source projects related to online mapping and GIS. This article touched on these: