Thoughts from State of the Map US 2014

Gretchen PetersonThe State of the Map US 2014 conference, a two-day conference covering all things OpenStreetMap, was held this past weekend in Washington DC. It was nice to attend as part of the Boundless contingent and meet — in person — tons of people whom I had only heretofore known via the internets.

Aside from the inspiration provided by the gorgeous weather and the cherry blossoms, there was also inspiration in abundance at the conference for cartographers. Every cartographer should become familiar with OpenStreetMap data if they aren't already. It's a bit of a bear to work with because it is in a different structure than we are normally used to (nodes and ways mean anything to you?) but you'll see the benefits if you download a state-wide or city-wide extract from one of several sites (such as geofabrik or Metro Extracts) and start using it in your map-making medium of choice. The dataset provides a comprehensive collection of roads, buildings and building types, points of interest, and so on. And it’s free!

There were many talks I didn't get to see because there were two concurrent tracks, but the ones that I attended focused heavily on tools that for using OpenStreetMap data, including GeoGit, TileMill, Esri, QGIS, and PostGIS. However, there were still some cartographic takeaways.

  • Kate Watkins, Seth Fitzsimmons and Alan McConchie told us that a great way to build a stylistically cohesive basemap is to focus on three main hues, along with variations on those hues.

  • In that same talk we saw some great examples of labels that break all the rules: the leading and kerning (that's line spacing and character spacing, basically) are decreased to negative values and the halos are very large and black. Of course this is the opposite of what most texts will recommend but it just proves that breaking the rules once in a while can make for some neat cartographic effects.

  • Eric Theise showed us that applying some of the devices of experimental film to maps, such as perception distortion, can be a creative way to get people thinking. Eric and I were discussing this later on in the day when he mentioned that he thought it would be interesting to have a map that taunted you if you tried to click on a feature to find out more about it. Something like, "You'd like to know what this building is, wouldn't you?!"

  • Kevin Bullock told a great story about a map of India that was produced in the 1800s with crude tools, took 70 years to complete, and astonishingly accurate despite these and other limitations. And you thought your map products took a long time to produce!

  • Our own Jeff Johnson rounded out the weekend with a more technical talk that examined the ways in which GeoGit could lead to a more distributed and decentralized architecture for OSM.

There was a lot more material covered, of course, and these points focused just on the cartography aspect of OpenStreetMap use. All the talks are now posted on the schedule part of the conference website so definitely take the time to watch them!

If you’re still curious about State of the Map, I recommend this great recap from Peter Batty which provides more details about the event and reviews other issues in the OpenStreetMap community including vector tiles, licensing, passive crowdsourcing, geocoding and more.

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