Thursday, August 7, 2014

New Era For Collaborative Mapping In The Adirondacks


In a recent blog post about Washington County’s new interactive webmap, I alluded to the new and exciting opportunities maps like this present for collaborative mapping in the Adirondacks.  To illustrate these opportunities, I’ve created a ‘mashup’ map that brings together data from several sources, including Washington County, Long Lake / Raquette Lake, and Newcomb, along with some data collected at a more regional level as part of an Adirondack Partnership project I was peripherally involved with.  The mashup map can be viewed by clicking here.

I had to do some custom coding to bring the data together and add features like the type-ahead search box in the upper-right and the quick zooms, but the actual information is being pulled ‘live’ from online databases maintained by each of these entities.   So when Washington County, Newcomb or Long Lake adds a new restaurant, modifies the route of a hiking trail or changes the contact info for a hotel, it is immediately reflected not only on their map, but also on my mashup and any other sites pulling from their database. 

How does this work?  Basically, the data can be accessed simply by typing a URL (web address) into your browser.  Here are two sample queries of the Washington County SQLite database to illustrate this point:

1)       Covered Bridges
2)      Dining

The database reads the URL and returns the information in a data format called ‘GeoJSON’ which is a standardized format that your browser then uses to draw the map on your screen.  The information in the Long Lake and Newcomb maps can be queried the same way from their respective CartoDB databases. CartoDB is a fantastic, easy-to-use web-based spatial database that has a introductory plan allowing you to store up to 5 map layers for free.  So the price tag for Long Lake and Newcomb to host the data you see in their maps is $0/year!  I encourage Almanack readers to check out CartoDB for themselves; it really is quite easy – my son and one of his 6th grade classmates at Newcomb CSD figured out how to make interactive maps for their country reports by going through the tutorials on the site.  Let me know if you create some cool maps of your own that I could work into a mashup.

In my view, one of the best things about all this is that each entity has complete control of their information.  The town or county has the freedom to choose what goes on the map and what doesn’t.  They also get the instant gratification of seeing updates appear on the map(s) in real time.

For smaller communities with few resources, maps such as these could be a powerful way to promote their town as a distinct entity in the context of a larger region.  For example, Long Lake & Newcomb already have online maps—if the towns of Indian Lake, Minerva, North Hudson, North River and North Creek joined in, one could easily put together a mashup map promoting the newly acquired Finch-Pruyn lands/Upper Hudson Recreation Area.

Each town’s layer would have its own look and content, allowing viewers to see not only the big picture but also the individuality of each town.  And it doesn’t have to be towns contributing the data—rafting companies could create an interactive map of rapids in the Hudson Gorge, or historical societies could produce maps of historic sites along with interpretive text and photos.   The possibilities are exciting, and I’m looking forward to seeing where all this goes.


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Steve Signell is the owner of Frontier Spatial, L.L.C., an Adirondack-based company offering mapping and data services. He splits his time between Schenectady and Long Lake, where he punctuates his time at the computer with stints on the fiddle and banjo.

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