Monday, February 18, 2019

Should Your Maps Talk?

Back in 2014 I used the fairly new (at the time) Web Speech API to create a simple Speaking Map. That map used reverse geocoding to speak the address of a location every time someone clicked on the map.

What I neglected to add to my Speaking Map was jokes. Which is where Alex wins out. Alex is a talking map which can understand a number of different spoken commands. You can ask Alex to zoom in and out on the map or to switch between aerial and topographical map layers. You can even tell Alex a location and it will center the map on that area. Alex's best feature, however, is its ability to tell Dad jokes. Ask Alex to tell you a joke and you can hear a really bad cartographically themed joke.

In the Maps Mania post accompanying my 2014 Speaking Map I mentioned how the Web Speech API could be used with driving directions to provide a simple navigation application. You could also use the Web Speech API in data visualizations to narrate some of the important facts that you want to impart with your visualization.

The Flourish visualization tool recently added a new feature they call 'Talkies' which allows you to add sound recordings to data visualizations. You can read more about Talkies in the blog post Why data visualisation needs a play button. Of course instead of using sound recordings you could use the Web Speech API instead. At the moment the artificial voices of the Web Speech API might be too annoying to use for narrating stories with maps. As the voices become more natural sounding this will probably change and Web Speech narration could become another valuable tool to add to your story maps and map data visualizations.

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