# Google MyMaps Part II: The Problem with Projections

Back in October, we published a blog post introducing you to Google MyMaps, an easy way to display simple information in map form. Today we’re going to revisit that topic and explore some further ways in which MyMaps can help you visualize different kinds of data!

One of the most basic things that students of geography learn is the problem of projections: the earth is a sphere, and there is no perfect way to translate an image from the surface of a sphere to a flat plane. Nevertheless, cartographers over the years have come up with many projection systems which attempt to do just that, with varying degrees of success. Google Maps (and, by extension, Google MyMaps) uses perhaps the most common of these, the Mercator projectionDespite its ubiquity, the Mercator projection has been criticized for not keeping area uniform across the map. This means that shapes far away from the equator appear to be disproportionately larger in comparison with shapes on the equator.

Luckily, MyMaps provides a method of pulling up the curtain on Mercator’s distortion. The “Draw a line” tool,  , located just below the search bar at the top of the MyMaps screen, allows users to create a rough outline of any shape on the map, and then drag that outline around the world to compare its size. Here’s how it works: After clicking on “Draw a line,” select “Add line or shape” and begin adding points to the map by clicking. Don’t worry about where you’re adding your points just yet, once you’ve created a shape you can move it anywhere you’d like! Once you have three or four points, complete the polygon by clicking back on top of your first point, and you should have a shape that looks something like this:

Now it’s time to create a more detailed outline. Click and drag your shape over the area you want to outline, and get to work! You can change the size of your shape by dragging on the points at the corners, and you can add more points by clicking and dragging on the transparent circles located midway between each corner. For this example, I made a rough outline of Greenland, as you can see below.

You can get as detailed as you want with the points on your shapes, depending on how much time you want to spend clicking and dragging points around on your computer screen. Obviously I did not perfectly trace the exact coastline of Greenland, but my finished product is at least recognizable enough. Now for the fun part! Click somewhere inside the boundary of your shape, drag it somewhere else on the map, and see Mercator’s distortion come to life before your eyes.

Here you can see the exact same shape as in the previous image, except instead of hovering over Greenland at the north end of the map, it is placed over Africa and the equator. The area of the shape is exactly the same, but the way it is displayed on the map has been adjusted for the relative distortion of the particular position it now occupies on the map. If that hasn’t sufficiently shaken your understanding of our planet, MyMaps has one more tool for illuminating the divide between the map and reality. The “Measure distances and areas” tool, , draws a “straight” line between any two (or more) points on the map. “Straight” is in quotes there because, as we’re about to see, a straight line on the globe (and therefore in reality) doesn’t typically align with straight lines on the map. For example, if I wanted to see the shortest distance between Chicago and Frankfurt, Germany, I could display that with the Measure tool like so:

The curve in this line represents the curvature of the earth, and demonstrates how the actual shortest distance is not the same as a straight line drawn on the map. This principle is made even more clear through using the Measure tool a little farther north.

The beginning and ending points of this line are roughly directly north of Chicago and Frankfurt, respectively, however we notice two differences between this and the previous measurement right away. First, this is showing a much shorter distance than Chicago to Frankfurt, and second, the curve in the line is much more distinct. Both of these differences arise, once again, from the difficulty of displaying a sphere on a flat surface. Actual distances get shorter the closer you get to the north (or south) ends of the map, which in turn causes all of the distortions we have seen in this post.

How might a better understanding of projection systems improve your own research? What are some other ways in which the Mercator projection (or any other) have deceived us? Explore for yourself and let us know!

# An Introduction to Google MyMaps

Geographic information systems (GIS) are a fantastic way to visualize spatial data. As any student of geography will happily explain, a well-designed map can tell compelling stories with data which could not be expressed through any other format. Unfortunately, traditional GIS programs such as ArcGIS and QGIS are incredibly inaccessible to people who aren’t willing or able to take a class on the software or at least dedicate significant time to self-guided learning.

Luckily, there’s a lower-key option for some simple geospatial visualizations that’s free to use for anybody with a Google account. Google MyMaps cannot do most of the things that ArcMap can, but it’s really good at the small number of things it does set out to do. Best of all, it’s easy!

How easy, you ask? Well, just about as easy as filling out a spreadsheet! In fact, that’s exactly where you should start. After logging into your Google Drive account, open a new spreadsheet in Sheets. In order to have a functioning end product you’ll want at least two columns. One of these columns will be the name of the place you are identifying on the map, and the other will be its location. Column order doesn’t matter here- you’ll get the chance later to tell MyMaps which column is supposed to do what. Locations can be as specific or as broad as you’d like. For example, you could input a location like “Canada” or “India,” or you could choose to input “1408 W. Gregory Drive, Urbana, IL 61801.” The catch is that each location is only represented by a marker indicating a single point. So if you choose a specific address, like the one above, the marker will indicate the location of that address. But if you choose a country or a state, you will end up with a marker located somewhere over the center of that area.

So, let’s say you want to make a map showing the locations of all of the libraries on the University of Illinois’ campus. Your spreadsheet would look something like this:

When you are asked to “Choose columns to position your placemarks,” select whatever column you used for your locations. Then select the other column when you’re prompted to “Choose a column to title your markers.” Voila! You have a map. Mine looks like this:

At this point you may be thinking to yourself, “that’s great, but how useful can a bunch of points on a map really be?” That’s a great question! This ultra-simple geospatial visualization may not seem like much. But it actually has a range of uses. For one, this type of visualization is excellent at giving viewers a sense of how geographically concentrated a certain type of place is. As an example, say you were wondering whether it’s true that most of the best universities in the U.S. are located in the Northeast. Google MyMaps can help with that!

This map, made using the same instructions detailed above, is based off of the U.S. News and World Report’s 2019 Best Universities Ranking. Based on the map, it does in fact appear that more of the nation’s top 25 universities are located in the northeastern part of the country than anywhere else, while the West (with the notable exception of California) is wholly underrepresented.

This is only the beginning of what Google MyMaps can do: play around with the options and you’ll soon learn how to color-code the points on your map, add labels, and even totally change the appearance of the underlying base map. Check back in a few weeks for another tutorial on some more advanced things you can do with Google MyMaps!

Try it yourself!

# Creating Quick and Dirty Web Maps to Visualize Your Data – Part 1

Do you have a dataset that you want visualized on a map, but don’t have the time or resources to learn GIS or consult with a GIS Specialist? Don’t worry, because ArcGIS Online allows anybody to create simple web maps for free! In part one of this series you’ll learn how to prepare and import your data into a Web Map, and in part two you’ll learn how to geographically visualize that data in a few different ways. Let’s get started!

# The Data

First things first, we need data to work with. Before we can start fiddling around with ArcGIS Online and web maps, we need to ensure that our data can be visualized on a map in the first place. Of course, the best candidates for geographic visualization are datasets that include location data (latitude/longitude, geographic coordinates, addresses, etc.), but in reality, most projects don’t record this information. In order to provide an example of how a dataset that doesn’t include location information can still be mapped, we’re going to work with this sample dataset that I downloaded from FigShare. It contains 1,000 rows of IP addresses, names, and emails. If you already have a dataset that contains location information, you can skip this section and go straight to “The Web Map.”

In order to turn this data into something that’s mappable, we need to read the IP addresses and output their corresponding location information. IP addresses only provide basic city-level information, but that’s not a concern for the sample map that we’ll be creating here. There are loads of free online tools that interpret latitude/longitude data from a list of IP addresses, so you can use any tool that you like – I’m using one called Bulk IP Location Lookup because it allows me to run 500 lines at a time, and I like the descriptiveness of the information it returns. I only converted 600 of the IP addresses in my dataset because the tool is pretty sluggish, and then I used the “Export to CSV” function to create a new spreadsheet. If you’re performing this exercise along with me, you’ll notice that the exported spreadsheet is missing quite a bit of information. I’m assuming that these are either fake IP addresses from our sample dataset, or the bulk lookup tool isn’t working 100% properly. Either way, we now have more than enough data to play around with in a web map.

Bulk IP Location Lookup Tool

# The Web Map

Now that our data contains location information, we’re ready to import it into a web map. In order to do this, we first need to create a free ArcGIS Online account. After you’ve done that, log in and head over to your “Content” page and click “Create → Map” to build a blank web map. You are now brought to the Map Viewer, which is where you’ll be doing most of your work. The Map Viewer is a deceptively powerful tool that lets you perform many of the common functions that you would perform on ArcGIS for Desktop. Despite its name, the Map Viewer does much more than let you view maps.

The Map Viewer

That’s it for part one! In part two we’re going to visualize our data in a few different ways and export our map for presentation.

# The Case Against Story Map Cascade

Esri Story Maps can be a powerful tool to present your research. When done well, Story Maps are dynamic, interactive, and can use images and maps to enhance the presentation of your research agenda. When done poorly, however, Story Maps can obfuscate the point of your research, and distract viewers with too many bells and whistles. I believe that the most important factor in creating a Story Map is deciding which kind of Story Map to create. Creating your Story Map in a format that works for your research is an important step.

And that is why I’m here to tell you that, despite being the prettiest of the Story Map options, you need to think again before choosing Cascade.

You may call this blasphemy, but hear me out. Because Cascade is seen as being the most attractive Story Map option, Story Map users will try to force their project into a narrative it may not necessarily have just to use the prettiest Story Map. This does a disservice both to your work, as well as to those who would be interested in your work, but find it difficult to understand given the medium that it’s been presented in. Esri Story Maps can be a great way to get the word out about a project, but also a very public way to flaunt mistakes or misunderstandings about the project and its message. As a scholar, you need to choose the Story Map option that best suits the work that you’ve created.

Below are my suggestions of what to consider before choosing to use Cascade for your Story Map.

# You may want to consider Cascade if you plan to…

• Use a lot of visual multimedia in your presentation. Cascade is a highly visual platform, and allows for a lot of integration between maps, images, and other forms of media, such as GIFs, videos, and even audio. In fact, in many Cascade presentations, the actual map can feel optional. Narrative and immersive sections provide a platform to showcase your non-map media in a way that emphasizes it to a greater degree than other Story Maps options.
• Tell a linear story with your presentation. If your research can be presented in a narrative, structured format, you should try Cascade. Cascade tends to be most effective when it feels like the user is reading the story
• Have a captive audience. Story Map Cascade is perfect for situations where people can’t (or have a strong incentive) not to close the window. Cascade could be the perfect accompaniment to someone doing a presentation, or creating something for a very specific audience. But if you are trying to market a project to strangers, they may just not have the attention span to deal with Cascade.
• Use different kinds of maps. Switching between different kinds of maps can, at times, be jarring in other Story Maps. Cascade allows for a narrative flow that can help give context to maps that may otherwise be jolting to the reader if they are flitting around another Story Map format.

# You may want to reconsider using Cascade if you plan to…

• Create a more minimalist story. If you have one map that is the centerpiece of your Story Map, you may want to consider a format that emphasizes that particular map more than Cascade. Cascade works best when you have a number of multimedia pieces that you need to pull together.
• Present your research in a non-linear format. If your research is more non-linear, then it’s best to choose a Story Map option that allows users to skip around and play with the map a little more than Cascade does. Forcing your research into a linear story will probably lead to frustration and confusion among your viewers.
• Create a more interactive map. Cascade does not lend itself well to interactive maps. Sure, you can do it, but the format of Cascade lends itself less to viewers taking the time to click on individual components of the map.

Again, I don’t hate Cascade. I’ve seen it used well. But I’ve also seen it used poorly. Do you agree with me? Disagree? Let me know in the comments! And if you’re looking to get started with Esri Story Maps, or want to learn more about GIS, stop by the Scholarly Commons!

# Neatline 101: Getting Started

Here at Commons Knowledge we love easy-to-use interactive map creation software! We’ve compared and contrasted different tools, and talked about StoryMap JS and Shanti Interactive. The Scholarly Commons is a great place to get help on GIS projects, from ArcGIS StoryMaps and beyond. But if you want something where you can have both a map and a timeline, and if you are willing to spend money on your own server, definitely consider using Neatline.

Neatline is a plugin created by Scholar’s Lab at University of Virginia that lets you create interactive maps and timelines in Omeka exhibits. My personal favorite example is the demo site by Paul Mawyer “‘I am it and it is I’: Lovecraft in Providence” with the map tiles from Stamen Design under CC-BY 3.0 license.

*As far as the location of Lovecraft’s most famous creation, let’s just say “Ph’nglui mglw’nafh Cthulhu R’lyeh wgah’nagl fhtagn.”

Now one caveat — Neatline requires a server. I used Reclaim Hosting which is straightforward, and which I have used for Scalar and Mukurtu. The cheapest plan available on Reclaim Hosting was \$32 a year. Once I signed up for the website and domain name, I took advantage of one nice feature of Reclaim Hosting, which lets you one-click install the Omeka.org content management system (CMS). The Omeka CMS is a popular choice for digital humanities users. Other popular content management systems include Wordpress and Scalar.

BUT WAIT, WHAT ABOUT OMEKA THROUGH SCHOLARLY COMMONS?

Here at the Scholarly Commons we can set up an Omeka.net site for you. You can find more information on setting up an Omeka.net site through the Scholarly Commons here. This is a great option for people who want to create a regular Omeka exhibit. However, Neatline is only available as a plugin on Omeka.org, which needs a server to host. As far as I know, there is currently no Neatline plugin for Omeka.net and I don’t think that will be happening anytime soon. On Reclaim you can install Omeka on any LAMP server. And side advice from your very forgetful blogger, write down whatever username and password you make up when you set up your Omeka site, that will save you a lot of trouble later, especially considering how many accounts you end up with when you use a server to host a site.

Okay, I’m still interested, but what do I do once I have Omeka.org installed?

So back to the demo. I used the instructions on the documentation page on Neatline, which were good for defining a lot of the terms but not so good at explaining exactly what to do. I am focusing on the original Neatline plugin but there are other Neatline plugins like NeatlineText depending on your needs. However all plugins are installed in a similar way. You can follow the official instructions here at Installing Neatline.

But I have also provided some because the official instructions just didn’t do it for me.

Go to your Control Panel, cPanel in Reclaim Hosting, and click on “File Manager.”

Sorry this looks so goofy, Windows snipping tool free form is only for those with a steady hand.

Navigate to the the Plugins folder.

Double click to open the folder. Click Upload Files.

If you’re using Reclaim Hosting, IGNORE THE INSTRUCTIONS DO NOT UNZIP THE ZIP FILE ON YOUR COMPUTER JUST PLOP THAT PUPPY RIGHT INTO YOUR PLUGINS FOLDER.

Plop it in!

Go back to the Plugins folder. Right click the Neatline zip file and click extract. Save extracted files in Plugins.

Install Neatline for real.

Still confused or having trouble with setup?

Check out these tutorials as well!

Open Street Maps is great and all but what if I want to create a fancy historical map?

To create historical maps on Neatline you have two options, only one of which is included in the actual documentation for Neatline.

Officially, you are supposed to use GeoServer. GeoServer is an open source server application built in Java. Even if you have your own server, it has a lot more dependencies to run than what’s required for Omeka / Neatline.

If you want one-click Neatline installation with GeoServer and have money to spend you might want to check out AcuGIS Neatline Cloud Hosting which is recommended in the Neatline documentation and the lowest cost plan starts at \$250 a year.

Unofficially, there is a tutorial for this available at Lincoln Mullen’s blog “The Backward Glance” specifically his 2015 post “How to Use Neatline with Map Warper Instead of Geoserver.”

Let us know about the ways you incorporate geospatial data in your research!  And stay tuned for Neatline 102: Creating a simple exhibit!

Works Cited:

Extending Omeka with Plugins. (2016, July 5). Retrieved May 23, 2017, from http://history2016.doingdh.org/week-1-wednesday/extending-omeka-with-plugins/

Installing Neatline Neatline Documentation. (n.d.). Retrieved May 23, 2017, from http://docs.neatline.org/installing-neatline.html

Mawyer, Paul. (n.d.). “I am it and it is I”: Lovecraft in Providence. Retrieved May 23, 2017, from http://lovecraft.neatline.org/neatline-exhibits/show/lovecraft-in-providence/fullscreen

Mullen, Lincoln. (2015).  “How to Use Neatline with Map Warper Instead of Geoserver.” Retrieved May 23, 2017 from http://lincolnmullen.com/blog/how-to-use-neatline-with-map-warper-instead-of-geoserver/

Working with Omeka. (n.d.). Retrieved May 23, 2017, from https://community.reclaimhosting.com/t/working-with-omeka/194

# Scholarly Smackdown: StoryMap JS vs. Story Maps

In today’s very spatial Scholarly Smackdown post we are covering two popular mapping visualization products, Story Maps and StoryMap JS.Yes they both have “story” and “map” in the name and they both let you create interactive multimedia maps without needing a server. However, they are different products!

## StoryMap JS

StoryMap JS, from the Knight Lab at Northwestern, is a simple tool for creating interactive maps and timelines for journalists and historians with limited technical experience.

One  example of a project on StoryMap JS is “Hockey, hip-hop, and other Green Line highlights” by Andy Sturdevant for the Minneapolis Post, which connects the stops of the Green Line train to historical and cultural sites of St. Paul and Minneapolis Minnesota.

StoryMap JS uses Google products and map software from OpenStreetMap.

Using the StoryMap JS editor, you create slides with uploaded or linked media within their template. You then search the map and select a location and the slide will connect with the selected point. You can embed your finished map into your website, but Google-based links can deteriorate over time! So save copies of all your files!

More advanced users will enjoy the Gigapixel mode which allows users to create exhibits around an uploaded image or a historic map.

## Story Maps

Story maps is a custom map-based exhibit tool based on ArcGIS online.

My favorite example of a project on Story Maps is The Great New Zealand Road Trip by Andrew Douglas-Clifford, which makes me want to drop everything and go to New Zealand (and learn to drive). But honestly, I can spend all day looking at the different examples in the Story Maps Gallery.

Story Maps offers a greater number of ways to display stories than StoryMap JS, especially in the paid version. The paid version even includes a crowdsourced Story Map where you can incorporate content from respondents, such as their 2016 GIS Day Events map.

With a free non-commercial public ArcGIS Online account you can create a variety of types of maps. Although it does not appear there is to overlay a historical map, there is a comparison tool which could be used to show changes over time. In the free edition of this software you have to use images hosted elsewhere, such as in Google Photos. Story Maps are created through their wizard where you add links to photos/videos, followed by information about these objects, and then search and add the location. It is very easy to use and almost as easy as StoryMap JS. However, since this is a proprietary software there are limits to what you can do with the free account and perhaps worries about pricing and accessing materials at a later date.

Overall, can’t really say there’s a clear winner. If you need to tell a story with a map, both software do a fine job, StoryMap JS is in my totally unscientific opinion slightly easier to use, but we have workshops for Story Maps here at Scholarly Commons!  Either way you will be fine even with limited technical or map making experience.

If you are interested in learning more about data visualization, ArcGIS Story Maps, or geopatial data in general, check out these upcoming workshops here at Scholarly Commons, or contact our GIS expert, James Whitacre!

# Event: Illinois GIS Day

• What: A celebration of GIS Day, an “annual salute to geospatial technology and its power to transform and improve our lives.” The event is free, and includes a keynote address, presentations, lightning talk sessions, a map/poster competition, and a career connection session.
• Where: iHotel and Conference Center, 1900 S 1st St, Champaign, IL 61820
• When: November 15, 2016 from 8:00 AM – 4:15 PM; registration open now
• Why: To spend a day with other GIS enthusiasts, to make important connections, and to learn new and important information about what is going on in the field, including a keynote address by Keith A. Searles, Chief Executive Officer, Urban GIS, Inc.

# GIS Spotlight: What3words

What3words is an addressing system that works as an alternative to using latitude and longitude. The system consists of a grid of three meter by three meter squares laid over the globe with a three word code randomly assigned to each square. Their system is based on the idea that three words are much easier to remember, as well as record and relay, than multi-digit latitude and longitude coordinates.

This new addressing system is extremely useful for countries where there are inconsistent or nonexistent addresses or street names.  The Mongol Post has adopted what3words as their addressing system because of the considerable nomadic population in Mongolia and the lack of road names over much of the country.

Even in countries with functional postal systems what3words can be used to identify places that have no address. For instance, the Alma Mater of The University of Illinois has no street address, but in what3words its address is stores.basin.frame.

I think that what3words is a really interesting idea, and since I love maps I find it enjoyable just looking around their website. It’s fun to find a what3words that’s very apt for its location (despite the random distribution of words), or… one that’s not.  For example, worlds.largest.ocean is located just outside of Marshfield, Wisconsin.

There are some limitations, however. What3words only gives information about the surface of the Earth. It does not give any reference to where things are vertically. Addressing in urban areas would not be able to rely solely on what3words for this reason; an apartment number or floor would have to be added. What3words has said that it’s possible they could incorporate a height dimension in the future.

What3words can be used with ArcGIS, a mapping software that the Scholarly Commons has available on all PCs in our lab. Since the Scholarly Commons is located on the third floor of the library, I can’t direct you here solely through what3words. I can however, specify the best library entrance for getting here.

Enter at and go up the stairs.

Come visit us!

# MapLab, new Wired magazine blog about maps

The popular technology & culture magazine Wired recently launched a new blog entitled MapLab to feature resources and ideas about maps.  MapLab’s scope includes learning about, using, making, and enjoying both analog and digital maps.

As staff commented in the initial post:

We’ll be exploring mapping software, hunting for data, and figuring out, step-by-step, how to make digital maps. We hope to make maps that tell interesting stories, answer important questions, reveal hidden relationships, and enhance the reporting we do at Wired.

Early posts have featured:

• The Urban Observatory, a web application that provides geo-spatial comparisons between cities over multiple variables, including demographics, land use, and transportation.
• A recent California Supreme Court ruling that local governments must release digital mapping files under the state’s public records law.
• MapBox Satellite Live, a future service of MapBox.com that plans to provide immediate access to near real-time satellite imagery of anywhere in the world, in a standard format.
• Maps and the Geospatial Revolution, a new MOOC (massive open online course) about digital mapping.

The blog is authored in part by GIS professionals and encourages feedback from readers.

# GeoChallenge 2010 !!

GeoChallenge 2010 has arrived.

• Are you interested in a Treasure Hunt?
• Do you want to play with GPS?
• Do you want a chance to win an iPod Touch or 100’s of dollars of gift certificates?

The campus is celebrating GIS day (Geographical Information Sciences) on November 19 with displays and lightning talks by people actively involved in geographic sciences. During the 2 weeks before GIS day, you can try your hand at a GPS rally. There are fun clues to various locations around campus. You go to each one, and answer questions about what you find there. The answers give you directions to the next clue. On the way you will help collect geographical information that will be presented at GIS day. When you are done, you will be entered in a drawing for some pretty cool prizes.

http://www.library.illinois.edu/sc/geochallenge_2010.html has the instructions and starting clue.

For information on GIS day go to http://webstore.illinois.edu/gisfair/

GeoChallenge 2010 - 1st clue