If you haven’t checked out EveryBlock (a news feed for your block), check it out. Created by a team of four, including Adrian Holovaty of chicagocrime.org fame, and released just weeks ago, EveryBlock is perhaps most noteworthy for the designers’ choice to roll their own maps. Paul Smith has a post on just that over at the EveryBlock blog.
With Google Maps or any other web-based mapping service, we’d be limited to the color palette, typeface, and other design elements that service’s designers chose. While those maps can be handsome products, their choices aren’t our choices, and don’t mesh well with our site’s aesthetics. Additionally, maps are fundamentally layered — eg., a parks layer sits on top of a streets layer, which sits on top of a cities layer, and on down. Maps can be composed of many such layers, up to a dozen or more. The maps from Google Maps, however, don’t let us choose which layers we receive. They are “collapsed” down into a single image, one that is well-designed for general purpose, but one that includes layers we’re not interested in displaying. Map aesthetics are no small thing. With all the Google Maps mashups out there, we used our own platform to stand apart, for visual distinction.
I love it. I have to admit, when I first saw EveryBlock, I wondered why they hadn’t opted to use pre-existing tiles from Microsoft or Google. And on a couple of recent projects (asthMap and the Hydrologic Dashboard) we’ve opted for the prepackaged Microsoft tiles (in my view, the best of online cartography), made possible sans API thanks to Modest Maps. But we cartographers often bemoan the standardization of online maps around the Google Maps aesthetic, and I think it’s great that the EveryBlock folks have chosen to buck this trend. Those wishing to roll their own as well should check out the following technologies, all mentioned in Paul’s post: