Like the map, can you make it less visible ?

As a Geographer and map geek one of the hardest lessons I have learnt, and what many in the web mapping field still need to learn is…

Eds law of mashups..

“The map is important, but not as important as the data you are publishing on top of it”

Yes the expensively created, well drafted work of art you have struggled to produce following years of effort, is actually just providing a background or context to the location of pizza restaurants or free car parking places.

You might not like that, but is true !

A number of web mapping companies have over the last few years experimented with a few different colour pallet tile sets, but last week rather buried by the other Google I/O announcements, the latest enhancements to the v3 Google Maps API was announced in the form of  “Styled Maps“.

Rather than just present a few fixed tile sets, styled maps allow you to dynamically create a map based on a custom colour palette so there is a huge range of possible map styles available to you.

Styled maps may be used to;

  • Make the background map less intrusive..
  • Conform to a website design, A orange map for easyjet ?
  • Make some features “invisible”, – remove minor roads for example !

So this is not a full computer cartography tool yet, but these enhancements we meet the needs of many map developers to make their maps unique.

Those in the know will realise this represents a whole new way of rendering maps online, the definition of a “map style” is stored as JSON matching map feature types to styles defined by  hue, lightness, saturation, gamma, inverse_lightness and visibility.

To make life a little easier there is a rather neat web tool to define your styles.

Remember one day, no two Google maps will be the same…

Written and submitted from the Google Offices, London (51.495N, 0.146W)

13 replies on “Like the map, can you make it less visible ?”

A lovely feature by Google. Its not as flexible as Cloud Made’s Style Editor, but 99% of the time web developers just want to change the colours. Very good and super fast too, would love to know if its based on caching the map as layers or its on-the-fly rendering or combination of both.

The ability to modify the styles of Google Maps is impressive, but I think your mashup law is a bit simplistic. Maybe it’s appropriate for the pizza place locator or parking lot finder that you mention, but – to paraphrase Peggy Lee – is that all there is to an online map? No question there are lots of pizza place locators out there and the new Google Map styles will be a boon for lots of people — but I’m ambivalent as I point out here:

Our team at the CUNY Graduate Center has made a humble contribution to furthering online map design, mainly through our Open Accessible Space Information System mapping site at — one of the more richly layered local mashups out there. In this case, the map and “the data published on top of it” are inextricably linked. Hopefully the new Google Map styles will help push the envelope along these lines, but not if it’s just to help the world find more pizza places.

@Steven, I actually agree with you, my “law” is really restricted to the classic mashup style pin map, there is the potential for a whole new cartographic movement based on high performance dynamic rendering of maps, that will bring much more meaning to web based maps.

@Richard and @MrGunn – I agree that this opens the door for lots of poorly designed map styles, as well as the potential for many more people outside the traditional GIS world to start thinking about cartography. People can do what they want, of course, and Google shouldn’t be expected to prohibit “bad” maps.

But, @Ed, what about Google partnering with Cynthia Brewer, who has probably done more than anyone in the last few years to promote good, effective cartographic styles in GIS applications. Though her books tend to be focused on ESRI software, her Designing Better Maps book and her ColorBrewer website are software-agnostic when it comes to symbology, typology, and color schemes – without being pedantic at all. I never make a map anymore without consulting at least one of her reference materials. Integrating ColorBrewer with Google’s Map Style Wizard would be an awfully powerful combination.

Ed, I assume SteveC is referring to the fact that Cloudmade has had the facility to allow anyone to created a styled map very easily from OpenStreetMap data for quite some time:

I think it is SteveC and Cloudmade who should take this as a compliment 🙂

“The map is important, but not as important as the data you are publishing on top of it”
Unless the map is rich enough data that you don’t need push-pins on top. Where you can not only change the colours but add newly built roads and have them instantly appear.

Talking of which, watch out for the OpenStreetMap buildings popping up in Hampton and heading towards Teddington. We never got together for some local OSM mapping after saying we would a few years ago, I suppose you don’t do that anymore?

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