Beautiful Websites: Stamen’s Pretty Maps
The aptly-named app pulls sets of geodata from various freely available open mapping projects and plots them atop one another. Pretty Maps grabs street-level data from OpenStreetMap (the “Wikipedia of maps”), land formation data from Natural Earth and place-name and place-shape data from Flickr shapefiles — Flickr’s outlines generated by the tags people have attached to photos taken in that place. So all the data is from crowdsourced databases and either public domain or licensed through the Creative Commons. The maps are generated using TileStache and PolyMaps, two open source tools developed in-house at Stamen.
The result is a map that’s not so much usable for navigation as it is pretty to look at. Cities degrade into abstract and unique blobs, with pastel colors overlaying one another. The shapes are alien looking in texture and density, but instantly recognizable if you’re already familiar with the terrain.
Stamen Design is a small, San Francisco-based data visualization firm best known in its early days for its work with Digg. Stamen specializes in abstract, trippy geo-spatial data visualizations like Trace and Cabspotting. The firm was also awarded a Knight News Grant in June to visualize publicly-available civic data.
So, there’s your invitation to View Source and start digging around. We can only hope the little Grover “Near, Far” zoom controls are part of the package.