This Instagram for Maps Will Make a Cartographer Out of You Yet

Posted by Eric Rodenbeck

Good-looking maps used to be the domain of experts. That’s been changing quite a bit in the last few years, and it’s easier than ever now for developers to access mapping data (the recent State of the Map US conference was a great place to hear about this). Never content to leave well enough alone, we thought we’d kick this sideways a bit and make it easy for the rest of us to make some great stuff.

We call it Map Stack. It's a bit like Instagram for maps.

The maps.stamen.com project was designed to let people easily use Open Street Map data in their own applications, and to provide well-designed map styles that would raise the bar for what people expect from open data. We're taking this a step further now, with http://mapstack.stamen.com/. Map Stack is about putting your creativity on the map, making it radically simpler to design your own map styles, without having to know any code, sign up for anything, install any software, or do any typing. We provide different parts of the map stack: backgrounds, roads, labels, and satellite imagery and straightforward controls for manipulating things like color, opacity, and masking.

You don't need to sign up for anything, know how to code, or know much about cartography to make great looking maps. You just need to decide where in the world you want to go, a web browser, and about five minutes. So now you can make all kinds of cool maps—say, this map of the Pentagon (which appears aglow with all the PRISM data flowing through it)—in no time: 

We’d originally talked about calling the project the “map sandwich,” since it’s all about the stacking of layers of maps. You know, like a sandwich! The first WhereCamp DC used a sandwich as its logo and the idea stuck. From there we went to “delicatessen,” 'cause that's where you go to have your sandwiches made. (We went through lots of names - “mappuccino kundalini” was a favorite for a while.)

The deli name went away but the idea of a neighborhood, brick-and-mortar shop with regular hours stayed. We’ve decided, for the sake of Seth’s sanity, that Map Stack will be open for business Monday to Friday, from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. PST until we can sort out what kind of infrastructure the project will need given the level of interest we’re seeing. You can tweet us during those hours with questions or give us a shout out to show off your smorgastrata at: http://twitter.com/mapstackStamen.

In its first day, viewers to the site generated about 10GB of map tiles—there are 10GB of new maps in the world! Which is great, but that’s a lot of tiles. We’re not getting paid for this—yet—and part of the project is figuring out what the business model might be.

A few initial ideas: we might offer the map backgrounds as a hosted service, we might sell prints (like we do via Soft Cities, 20x200 (sadly down but apparently coming back soon), and as of today, DODOcase), we might integrate it with Pinterest or Twitter or Facebook better (there’s a conversation about this very thing happening on Twitter right now)—we’re not sure. One thing we do know is that the best way to find this information out is to release projects into the wild, so!

Here are some examples, a short menu of maps that we and others have worked up to get you started. You can also view a gallery of images that people are creating here. Enjoy!

Images courtesy of Stamen Design. This post was cross-posted from Stamen. 

Try making your own map—click here to say you'll do it.