Saturday, January 06, 2007

duboce park, atlas, and digital journalism

from two great posts over at innovation in college media, i learned about atlas. created by journalists and web developers at faneuil media, atlas is a free web-based mapping tool that is incredibly easy to use. with atlas, you can create a map and annotate it with text, images, and links. similar to youtube, you can easily embed atlas maps into blog posts.

i have been playing with atlas for the last few days and am happy with how easy it is to use. this afternoon i used atlas to create this map of the nice walk i took this morning in nearby duboce park.

as i play more and more with atlas, i begin to think of all kinds of public art, public history, and public engagement applications. i think of how someone like my friend kelly quinn could and would use something like this. but for now, staying as disciplined as i can be during winter break, i'm brainstorming ways that we'll use atlas in my spring semester course - digital journalism.


Murley said...

Glad you found this useful. Please let me know what you do with Atlas in the spring semester. I'm always looking for ideas that will prod college media to use these tools in new ways.


kq said...

hubba hubba, googs.

wish we could go to the pool and float under the mushroom and discuss potential aps.

and here, gentle readers, i mean david and i would sit under a large mushroom fountain in a splash pool and kick the proverbial it while we were in grad school.

this is not a sly reference to drug use.

i take atlas and google's maps applications to be extremely powerful tools for digital storytelling. and, as you know googs, in the beginning there was the word.

that is, one must begin with an idea or a twinkle of a story idea before marking anything else up.

ig said...

very nice! thanks for posting this. i just got done figuring out flickr, finally. onward to atlas.

Jason said...

David - Do you have to use maps that are provided, or could you conceivably use atlas on any kind of map/image?

Hope all is well in SF.

Rick said...

David, thanks for the nice post about Atlas. Thought you might like to know that we updated it last night with a few very cool new features:

> You can now create maps that your readers can contribute to. Just go to "Edit Map Properties" and select "User Contributions". If you want to moderate the contributions, select that option.

> Any data you (or your users) add to Atlas can now be downloaded at any time in a KML format. Just go to "Embed" and select the KML option.

> We're helping drive traffic to your maps by publishing KML files for every map you create. (See Google's recent post on this topic:

We're still working out the kinks, so let us know if you run into any problems or you have any suggestions.

Rick Burnes

david silver said...

jason! to the best of my knowledge, atlas only works with the provided maps. it would certainly be great if users could atlas not just maps but images (like the famous scene in bladerunner).

irina - you should atlas one of your famous walkabouts through the central district.

david silver said...


thanks for stopping by.

the map is now contributable - cool.

here's some immediate feedback:

* when using graphics, the windows that pop up to ask about width and height gotta go. can't that stuff be translated without the user doing it?

* i got turned off by having to enter image dimensions and instead just cut and paste code from flickr. which is cool, except you have to add some html (target="_blank") or a flickr page (comments and all) will colonize your blog space.

* when putting down a pin, there should be a SAVE button alonside preview. it's unintuitive the way users are supposed to save entries.

* does a guest have to re-enter their name, email, and url each time they add an edit? again, i think the notion of SAVING one's entry could be cleaned up a bit.

also, Rick, while i got a slice of your time - i'd really like to be able to use multiple colored pins in a single map. is that coming along? for example, with the duboce park map, i'd like to have different colored pins signify different information segments: green pin equals green spaces; blue pins equal dogs; yellow pins equal buildings; red pins equal human beings; etc. then our maps can include user-driven overlays.

Rick Burnes said...


Thanks a lot for the detailed feedback. It's very, very helpful.

A few notes on your comments:

- Loading graphics is definitely a pain. We're working on this.

- I'm glad you raised the problems with the save buttons. We've made a few tweaks, and I'm not sure they've all worked. We have to think this through again.

- Multiple colored pins is something we'd love to do, and that others have mentioned. Right now it's a level of complexity beyond where we're at ... but we're getting there!

Let me know if you have more thoughts (rick at or fmatlas at

Rick Burnes said...

David, quick question: Where did you get the code from Flickr that you added to the map? Did you hack it out of your badge, or is there some other really obvious place in my Flickr account that I'm missing?


david silver said...

hey rick,

take the image of duboce park cafe;

under the horizontal bar, i select ALL SIZES

once i select a size (i've been using thumbnail), the code appears near the bottom of the page.

Rick said...

David, just wanted to let you know that we fixed the problems with the graphics popups that you mentioned. We also changed the "Close" button to "Save", as you suggested. Hopefully we'll get to some of the other items on your list soon ... Rick

david silver said...

rick, the save buttons are a huge improvement. i do think that the interface for atlas-registered users is easier to understand than the one for guests - in particular, i'm not sure if guests will understand that they have to save twice: first to save the data for a particular pin; and second to submit all new changes. but the new interface is definately an improvement.

david silver said...

rick, i have another request! =)

the current version of the duboce map is getting pretty filled - over 20 pins so far.

this evening i added two new pins - one taken of the muni trains converging at nighttime and one of an apartment that borders the park.

because there are already a lot of pins, i doubt any blog visitors will realize that i've added to the map.

for that reason, what about an optional text-based table on one side of the map that would list the most recent additions? in other words, a sidebar that shows timeliness?

that way, if the map is updated over time users who visit the map multiple times will easily find the newest additions.

Rick Burnes said...

hmm... that's an interesting idea. We're already working on a sidebar, maybe we can allow sorting by date. I'll let you know.