(Spring 2012) Data Driven Interactive Journalism Complex storytelling using data

Making Maps

Quite a few students have proposed map-based projects for Assignment 1, so a resource guide is in order.

If you’re just getting started with interactive news, you probably want to start simple. You can do a lot with Google Maps, and Many Eyes is great for state and country level maps. John Keefe blogs relentlessly about his Google mapping projects, how they work, and what he’s learned. Great posts to dive in with include:

+ Mapping campaign donations against districts

+ More campaign donations

+ Coastal Evacuation Map

+ AP Election Data

+ Live Election Data

Vocabulary Lesson

If you haven’t made maps before, you’ll be facing a whole new language and probably reaching back to tenth grade geometry for others. You already know what vectors and polygons are, right? Of course you do! Points connected by lines.

Git isn’t particular to map making at all, but it is a distributed version control system, and a great way to collaborate on software development. Repo.or.cz, GitHub and Gitorious are all great places to can get free git hosting.

KML is the markup language that Google Earth uses. Wikipedia has some syntax examples. You might never write KML from scratch, but it is worth at least looking under the hood to see how it works. Columbia’s digital media tutorials include New York City KML files that are Google Maps ready.

Shapefile is a geospatial vector data format. Put simply, a shapefile lists of points that connect to make up polygons. The format is a little more nuanced than that, of course. You can download NYC Shapefiles from the Department of City Planning.

For the Programmers

Keefe tipped me off to  Albert Sun’s gmap library, which you can think of as “second semester google maps.”

If you start developing some programming skills, you can do a whole lot more using tools like TileMill, which is quite powerful, but takes a bit of technical know-how. The news apps team at ProPublica built their own mapping library, published the code, and used it to power a very cool redistricting explorer.

More tools? More questions?

Lingering questions? Want to share a tool you love (or just kind of like)? Bonus points if they’re free (as in birds) – we’ve got free-as-in-beer covered. We want to hear from you.

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