Flat Maps are not Hyper

New York CityMapA week ago the New York Times ran an interesting opinion article on the new NYC interactive map. I'm sure it's been discussed elsewhere, but wanted to make sure and highlight some of the keen insights Mr. Klinkenborg offered. It echoes my feelings that we have done very well at putting static map images into digital interfaces, but are only just beginning to make these maps dynamic and linked - like any medium on the internet - explorable, annotated, and dynamic.

The map itself at first is not very impressive by modern digital mapping expectations. It has simple smooth panning or zoom, with an interface reminiscent of MapGuide style portals.

Where it becomes impressive is after turning on some of the layers of public safety, services, and infrastructure that simple markers that open on hover make it very easy to move around and discover information and links to other municipal databases such as census, architecture, neighborhoods, polling information, lot information, and much more - all without overloading the user. The impressive connection of so much data, especially in a city of the density of New York, is impressive.

The map is an example of simplicity, familiar interfaces, and rich data presentation that As Mr. Klinkenborg states,

There is a pleasing logic to this kind of organization, to layer after layer of data embedded within a scalable map. In a sense, it approximates how we tend to know the world... Think of returning to your neighborhood after a trip or driving to your parents’ house. You can almost feel the increasing depth of your knowledge as the terrain becomes more familiar. What you know isn’t just the superficial arrangement of streets and highways. You have a rich array of geographically organized information, some of it practical — how far to the good grocery store — and some of it emotional.

Obviously I would hope the underlying data is also made available. Imagine if the map existed as a feed of data sources that linked to one another - any queried point returned a GeoJSON item that linked to the Sanitation Collection Schedule in GeoRSS, Elected Officials as hCards, Building outline as a KML, and lot information as GML. The map portal is just a single, simple entry point into this information that the NYC.gov can guide and control. However, the data can and will be available via any number of interfaces that go beyond the device itself, but provide for a seamless integration of this information at our fingertips to query and drape over the very urban landscape as we navigate and interact with it.

Mr. Klinkenborg summarizes,

It’s easy to assume that the real revolution in mapping is the global positioning satellite and Google revolution... But the real revolution lies in the layering of data onto these already kinetic methods of viewing the world. In a very real sense, the virtual planet becomes our index to what we know about the actual planet.

I'm looking forward to future incarnations that include boundaries estimating daily resident happiness, suggesting cultural relevance, and heatmaps of amount of sunlight and sky-view.

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Andrew Turner is an advocate of open standards and open data. He is actively involved in many organizations developing and supporting open standards, including OpenStreetMap, Open Geospatial Consortium, Open Web Foundation, OSGeo, and the World Wide Web Consortium. He co-founded CrisisCommons, a community of volunteers that, in coordination with government agencies and disaster response groups, build technology tools to help people in need during and after a crisis such as an earthquake, tsunami, tornado, hurricane, flood, or wildfire.