OpenHeatMap launches


I learned a lot from my Five Nations of Facebook post, but the biggest lesson was how good maps are at telling complicated stories in a simple way. It left me wanting to build more of them, but I didn't want to code up a whole new piece of software for each one. I spent some time looking around for some applications to help me build online interactive maps, but couldn't find any that met my needs. So, I set out to build the tools I wished I had.

Six months later, I'm finally launching the first public release of OpenHeatMap. What is it? For a quick answer check out the gallery, but the long version is that there's two sides, a service for users and an open-source framework for developers. Here's what each offers.

For Users

My one-sentence description is "YouTube for maps". If you have location data in an Excel spreadsheet, you can save it out as a CSV file, upload it to OpenHeatMap and get an interactive online map that you can customize, share and embed.

For Developers

OpenHeatMap is a JQuery plugin for embedding maps in your page. It will render in either Flash or Canvas to work across as many platforms as possible. I've licensed it under the GPL, the code is on github, and all of the data sources are under open-source licenses, so you should be able to use it without any of the pesky terms-of-service restrictions that come with some of the commercial solutions.

I'm still working like crazy to iron out bugs and improve the service (trying to get it working a lot more reliably on the iPhone for example), so please give it a try and let me know what you think via I'll be blogging about some of my favorite maps over the next few days, so let me know if you create some that you'd like to share as well.

And finally a big thanks to everyone who's helped me get the project this far, all of the pre-release testing and feedback from my regular readers was incredibly helpful. In particular I'd like to thank:

Steve Coast for giving me the initial drunken shove towards building this

Peter Batty for educating a newbie on the geo world

Michal Migurski for creating so many awesome maps, and giving early feedback

Dan Armstrong for insightful guidance on what data analytics professionals like him really need

Joe Kelly and Chris Hathaway for generously sharing some fascinating data sets

Josh, Rob and Jud for their constant support and testing help

Five short links

(I’m just back from a two-night camping trip at Lake Granby high in the Rockies, and that’s a view from our site)

How to nurture data scientists – There’s a whole new generation of data geeks quietly emerging who don’t fit in with the traditional classifications and Ben covers what they need to thrive within an organization. “The web is awash with data, much of which might be useful for your business analysis if you had a team of data scientists”

WhereDoYouGo – A fascinating open-source project to map your FourSquare habits via @rgaidot

Getting started with Map ReduceScott Hendrickson saved my bacon at the last Boulder/Denver Hadoop meetup. I’d left the location and talk arrangements until the last minute but he came through with a killer beginners guide to Amazon’s Elastic MapReduce service. He’s uploaded the slides here, and though his narration was hilarious, even just the notes and the links he includes are valuable for anyone thinking of using Hadoop

AggData – What is it with Texas and data startups? I’m already a big fan of 80Legs and InfoChimps, and just discovered this source of data sets in the Lone Star state. What’s really interesting is that it’s all publicly available information, with a lot of store locations pulled from websites, but it’s hard to gather unless you’re willing to do some serious head-scratching writing your own crawlers.

Rent-a-treehouse – I don’t normally respond to SEO people who want me to promote their sites, but when Chris Horner emailed me I was actually pretty fascinated by these odd European vacation rentals, so I decided to pass them along for free. You could also have your pick of a couple of castles, a shepherd’s hut or even a cave.

Five short links

Picture by Esther Kirby

Cybercasing the Joint: On the Privacy Implications of Geo‐Tagging – A thought-provoking paper that looks at the real-world security holes that the new streams of location information create. A great example is the coordinates silently embedded in many photos – if you post a picture of a valuable item to Craigslist then anyone could work out where you live, and so where to steal it from

Free GIS Data – A small but useful collection of geographic data sets. This together with the world boundaries at Thematic Mapping opens up a lot of possibilities for geographic visualizations

Heat maps with the Google Flash API – This tutorial walks you through the coding steps you need to create your own thematic maps

Should BP nuke its leaking well? – After spending a childhood so convinced a nuclear apocalypse was imminent that I used to refuse to go into town with my parents, I’ve retained a fascination with the weapons, so I was glad to see an in-depth analysis of this idea. My favorite quote by far is “I would recommend that the international community not listen to the Russians. Especially those of them that offer crazy ideas. Russians are keen on offering things, especially insane things.”

A phone call from the census – I wonder is this is the equivalent of a Rorschach blot for your attitude to name-badge employees? Erik Gordon seems baffled by the fact that the census employee calling him has to rigidly stick to a script as she checks the census details he’d mailed in, and gets self-righteously stroppy. Reading it as someone who was forced to ask “Would you like cashback?” to every single customer at my checkout no matter how inappropriate it seemed or risk getting fired, I just feel bad for the girl who’s calling. Spending a bit of time on the bottom rungs of companies with that level of hyper-controlled process makes you look at these encounters differently.