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February 24, 2010

MTBGuru tracks as seen through Google Fusion Tables

Filed under: General MTBGuru stuff,Mapping — mtbguru @ 9:02 am

Our friends at Google have been busy as always – you may have noticed their launch this past summer of Fusion Tables, a cloud-based collaborative database application. This description probably doesn’t do much justice to what it is and can do but follow the link for more details – it basically allows people to work with structured data stored in the cloud. Or simplier said: it’s to things like MS Access or SQL a bit like Google Docs is to MS Office. An API has also been released to allow developers programmatic access to the data.

Now the Fusion Tables team is launching some new and pretty cool features, enabling new ways to visualize geocoded data on maps. It quite surpasses what one can do with regular gmaps. To illustrate these new features, data from MTBGuru (public trips) have been used to demo these visualizations. Check out the embedded (live) maps to get a taste for what it can do. The map above shows tracks from public trips in the map area, which are all overlayed as polylines – a huge amount of them – it’s pretty cool to see patterns arise of popular or much-traveled routes and trails (I particularly like the Henry Coe cobweb!)… moreover the polylines are clickable and will show you an infowindow with links to the original trip page etc. The data, which lives in a Fusion Table, can be filtered and manipulated as one can expect in a database environment, and the visualization will be adjusted accordingly.
The map below gives you a ‘heat map’ view, giving you an idea of the density of tracks in a certain area.

More details are announced on the Google LatLong blog.

From our side, we’ve been exploring the API and see how we could use Fusion Tables and its new geocoding features on MTBGuru. We thought it would be great to have a layer with these polyline tracks overlayed on the map on our home page, so that is what we’ve started implementing. The screenshots below show you how the maps on the home and trip pages now look like: on the home map, a ‘track layer’ displays tracks originating from all public trips in the map area – its visibility can be controlled by the check box labeled ‘Show All Tracks’ circled in green on the screenshot. Moreover, when you’re logged in, you can choose to display only your own tracks, using an additional checkbox labeled ‘Show My Tracks’. The overlay works with all map types, so you can view the track layer on MyTopo maps, Open Street Map (OSM) etc.

To avoid making things look like a mess in areas with a dense population of trips, the trip icon checkboxes are now unchecked by default – which means the trip icons are hidden by default. If you do want to get the old view back, check the trip icon boxes and uncheck the ‘Show Tracks’ boxes.

On a trip page, by default only the track representing the trip is shown (as was the case before), but right above the map you now have controls to display the track layer. Again, when logged in, you can choose to display either all public trips or only your own. To be able to discern the trip from the other tracks, it is now being plotted in blue instead of red (see final screenshot).

Note that the polylines from the track layer don’t have as high a resolution as the polyine representing the trip, so the red traces will appear a bit rougher. Also, we plan to use the API to periodically update the Fusion table with the newest uploaded tracks – we’re still testing this so for now the most recent tracks may not show yet. And by the way, private trips will never be displayed, as they are not uploaded to the Fusion Table (private is private!).

Finally, we’ve created a Google Code project with sample code illustrating how we used the API to work with Fusion Tables and create the table with trips.




February 5, 2010

MyTopo topographic maps

Filed under: Mapping — mtbguru @ 7:48 am

The topographic map type you can select on MTBGuru uses map data freely available and served up by Microsoft Research Maps (MSR Maps), the former Terraserver. The data originates from the USGS, is in the US public domain and the fact that it is readily available online is a great service by both the US government and MSR Maps. In fact, in most other countries there is hardly any free (both in the copyright and the political sense) topographic map data available.

The USGS data is recently now also accessible and served through an API by mapping company MyTopo.com. MyTopo.com has its own rendering of the map data, featuring generally nicer looking map tiles and using more recently updated data. So we thought it would be a good idea to offer it as a new map type on MTBGuru’s pages. You can check out the difference in the screenshots below; first, the MSR Maps/Terraserver map:

MSR topo map

And this is the MyTopo version:

MyTopo map
(Quite a bit easier on the eyes and the shading gives a nice perception of depth.)

Both MSR Topo and MyTopo will be available as a map type for the time being – but over time we may want to phase out the former altogether. The MyTopo maps come with a smaller number of zoom levels though but that doesn’t seem to be much of a drawback (it’s basically only the highly zoomed out levels which are missing).

Since we’re talking USGS data, topographic data for other countries generally still won’t be available – however, in this regard MyTopo does offer another fine improvement: it additionally offers map data from Canada (originating from NRCan):

Topo maps Canada