[Editor's note: Hyperlocal maps mashing up with local news are about to get much more interesting. If you create city street maps, you should read this article and start researching web Mercator and how to cut your custom cartography into image tiles. Might make a good topic at this year's NACIS meeting in St. Pete.]
Republished from the Nieman Journalism Lab.June 24 / 10 a.m./
Two primary concerns when it comes to news innovation have to do with information itself: harnessing it and investing communities in it. One of this year’s Knight News Challenge winners wants to tackle both of those concerns — at the same time, through the same platform.
Tilemapping aims to empower residents of local communities to explore those communities through mapping. “A lot of great stories can be told using maps and some of the new data that’s become available,” says Eric Gunderson, the project’s coordinator. And the Tilemapping project wants to leverage the narrative power of new technologies to help media — community media, in particular — create hyper-local, data-filled maps that can be easily embedded and shared. The tool is aimed at both journalists and community members more broadly; the idea is to help anyone with investment in a given location “tell more textured stories” about that location — and to help visualize (and discover) connections that might not otherwise be clear.
Tilemapping does what its name suggests: It provides “a tool that basically glues together a bunch of tiles,” Gunderson says, to create a layered map. (Map tiles are the small, square images that comprise maps — think of the squares you see when zooming in on a Google Map.) The project works through TileMill, a MapBox tool that, in turn, “glues together a bunch of other open-source tools to make it easier to generate map tiles.” Users customize both their data and the particular style of their map — and TileMill generates a custom, composite rendering, hosted on Amazon’s Elastic Compute Cloud (EC2). Essentially, the platform is a modular system that allows users to customize the data they want to represent — and to layer them upon other representations to create targeted, contextual maps.