Thursday, April 03, 2014

Zeit Online Drops Google Maps

Over the years German newspaper Zeit has published some great data visualizations using the Google Maps API. However  it has now followed the trend set by many other digital publishers in moving away from Google Maps and towards using OpenStreetMap.

Zeit Online and Google Maps


IN 2011 Zeit Online used Google Maps to reveal the location data captured by mobile phones. The map animated the movements of German Green party politician, Malte Spit on a Google Map, for a six month period. Verräterisches Handy was not only a great map it also proved to be one of the most effective articles in raising the awareness of mobile users to the location data captured by their phones and by the phone companies.


In 2011, after the Japanese tsunami and the resulting meltdown at Fukushima Nuclear Power Plant, Zeit Online published a Google Map visualizing how many Americans live near nuclear power plants.

The American Nuclear Power Plants Map includes a distance slider tool that allows you to visualize how many people live within different distances of a nuclear power plant. For example, the voluntary evacuation zone around the Fukushima power plant is 18 miles. Using the Zeit-Online map we find that a total of 16,040,474 Americans live within 18 miles of a nuclear plant.

In 2012 Zeit Online created a similar map for its German readers. The German Nuclear Power Plants Map shows how many people live close to German nuclear power plants. This map also includes a distance slider tool that lets you visualize how many Germans live within different distances of a nuclear power plant.

Zeit Online and OpenStreetMap

Yesterday the MapBox Blog published a post on Zeit Online's switch to custom made OpenStreetMaps. The post is an interesting examination of the design decisions Zeit Online has taken in their new look interactive maps. These design choices include the use of Zeit Online fonts for map labels and the sparse use of map labels to make space for information on data visualizations.


The MapBox post also includes links to a number of examples of Zeit-Online's use of interactive maps. These include an interesting map showing how doctor’s offices are concentrated in affluent neighborhoods of German cities, a map displaying the tracks of all hurricanes between 2008 and 2013 and a map showing the UK's nuclear power plant construction plans.

The MapBox blog post of course does not explain the reasons behind Zeit Online's decision to drop the use of the Google Maps API for MapBox and OpenStreetMap. We can probably infer that the greater freedom in design control offered by OpenStreetMap contributed in some part to the newspaper's decision.

I've written before about how I think that Google has been very slow over the last two years in developing the Google Maps API. I strongly believe that Google's recent concentration on Google Maps Engine and neglect of the Google Maps API is causing map developers to switch to other mapping platforms.

Of course Google may not care about this. Google Maps Engine generates income for Google and also means that they have access to all the location data uploaded by Google Maps Engine users.
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