Internews Center for Innovation & Learning

Internews Center for Innovation & Learning
Twitter icon
Facebook icon
RSS icon

MapBox

Interactive maps are bandwidth heavy and in order for them to appear quickly on a website, a dedicated, fast hosting environment is required. MapBox is a hosting platform for interactive maps, and is an alternative to Google Maps. Created by Development Seed, MapBox offers a range of hosting deals - that includes a free deal for maps that will receive less than 3000 views / month.  MapBox works in conjunction with TileMill - another DevSeed tool that lets users create interactive maps. Most recently, MapBox has linked its maps with Open Street Map data to provide street level detail.

MapBox has good documentation that takes users through the process of creating interactive maps. However, Development Seed offers map creation services and for mapping projects with good budgets ($20K plus), it's worth talking to them about what's possible.

All of Development Seed's tools are open source, and the same applies to the MapBox server code (theoretically, you can install MapBox on your own server, and host your own maps). Creating simple interactive maps and hosting them on MapBox is relatively simple and the documentation is clear - however, doing something more complex requires a certain level of technical skill.

Available expertise: 

Sam de Silva was involved in the Nai's Journalist Violations site - http://data.nai.org.af - Internews' first use of Development Seed and their tools. Development Seed has made numberous presentations at Internews HQ and has connections with a number of staff. Also, they participated in the Pakinstan Innovation Lab, which lead to the PakReport team utilising DevSeed's tools.

Key Features: 
Interactive map hosting environment
Suitable for: 
MapBox and its associated tools can be used to create impressive interactive maps from complex data sets
Not suitable for: 
Real-time mapping is problematic. The hosted maps are created using TileMill which burns in the data in to the map tiles.
Time commitment: 
Creating a simple interactive map is easy, but doing something more sophisticated takes time. Also, design and user experience takes time to get right.
Technical expertise needed: 
A non-tech can play with MapBox and assocaited tools, but ideally, someone with technical skills (JSON, Javascript), user experience design and with mapping technology familiarity will be required. A
Cost: 
$$
Cost considerations: 
It depends on how popular the maps will become. Typically, one hosting deal can be shared among a number of projects. Creating the maps themselves have costs attached.
Best Practices: 
Evaluate what's required. If there's real-time updates to maps, then make sure it's possible to do through MapBox hosting. Also, evaluate costs of Google - currently, use is free - but there may be fees coming soon (or advertising associated with maps).
Lessons learned: 
It's important to cost out for the long-term. Hosting and updating the map data needs to be taken in to consideration, otherwise, partners will be left with dead maps, that may blink off once the Mapbox hosting arrangement ends.