A Powerful New Mapmaking Tool Fit for Both Pros and Newbies

Wired
September 17, 2015

By Greg Miller:

GEODATA IS BLOWING up like crazy. As of last year, more than 680,000 apps in the Apple store were using loca­tion ser­vices to pin­point users and serve up site-​​specific direc­tions or restau­rant rec­om­men­da­tions (just to name two obvi­ous exam­ples). Enti­ties from city gov­ern­ments to human rights groups are upload­ing tor­rents of loca­tion data on every­thing from fruit trees to drone strikes. Wran­gling all that geo­data and turn­ing into some­thing use­ful is a huge challenge.

New web-​​based soft­ware from Map­box aims to help. The DC and San Francisco-​​based com­pany has been work­ing for more than a year to over­haul its Map­box Stu­dio soft­ware. Its intended audi­ence is devel­op­ers and “super pow­er­ful high-​​end car­tog­ra­phers,” says CEO Eric Gun­der­sen. But you don’t have to belong to some elite car­to­graphic strike force to use it. It has a graphic inter­face that’s fairly easy to nav­i­gate, espe­cially for peo­ple famil­iar with pro­grams like Illus­tra­tor or Pho­to­shop. The idea, Gun­der­sen says, was to cre­ate a pow­er­ful map­mak­ing tool for the pros that’s also acces­si­ble for the map­mak­ing masses.

Map­mak­ing has tra­di­tion­ally con­sisted of 80% get­ting ready to design a map, fuss­ing with data­sources, installing soft­ware, and then 20% design,” says Tom MacWright, one of the lead devel­op­ers on the project. “A ton of work has gone into elim­i­nat­ing steps, remov­ing grunt work, so peo­ple can actu­ally be creative.”

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