MapCruncher – a prototype technology from Microsoft Research that makes it easy for users to create their own, personalized mash-ups – may revolutionize the way people use online maps. MapCruncher enables a user to take existing road maps and aerial imagery and overlay particular, specialized maps to create unique mash-ups tailored to the user’s specific interests.
“Traditionally,” Microsoft Research’s Jeremy Elson explains, “the whole process of taking geographically registered data and generating new maps has been the purview of geographic-information-systems professionals, people whose job it is to think about maps. Our goal was to try to make it so simple that everybody in the world who had some map they cared about would be able to trivially convert it into a format that would be easy to share and combine with other people’s maps.”
The MapCruncher Web site includes a full tutorial and a gallery of example mash-ups, such as one consisting of bike maps in the Pacific Northwest. A road map would identify streets but would be devoid of detail about the best routes for cyclists. The Virtual Earth imagery would reveal a different set of information, but the images would be unidentified. But using MapCruncher to overlay a cycling map atop the aerial imagery produces a map with physical features, road information, and structure identification – all combined into one, easy-to-use composite.
But the technology isn’t limited to such purposes. Its power lies in the fact that it can be personalized to a user’s specific interests. “The interesting thing,” Elson says, “is that you can stitch maps together in ways people wouldn’t be able to predict. Somebody could say, ‘My hobbies are salmon fishing and bicycling,’ stitch together a map of hot salmon spots with a bike map, and take a bike route to a salmon-fishing spot.”
If MapCruncher proves to be a big hit, which seems entirely possible, it could engender a snowball effect. “In the future,” says Microsoft Research’s Jon Howell, “you’ll be able to just take all these layers and put them together yourself in a browser and bookmark it. Adding layers to each other will be as simple as bookmarking something in your browser today. Once all of these things are placed into the global coordinate system, they can all be combined with each other in ways that the people who created the data never even envisioned.
“When you start to see map layers that are not created by a single person, but become a group effort by lots of people interested in the same thing … When we start to see that, I think then we’ll know it’s caught on.”
Published in: Microsoft on 2006-05-16