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Bye bye Lat-Lon, hello place names!

As our users know, Mapsdata allows you to create maps using data with a variety of location information. But it wasn’t always like this.

We started mapping with the basics, like latitude and longitude, but sometimes that’s not the most convenient. As a result we’ve progressively added support for more things, like US ZIP codes or UK postcodes. Mapsdata now accepts 9 different types of location information. The idea, of course, is to make it as effortless as possible for our users to create great data visualizations.

To this end, we recently added the ability to use data without “proper” geographic information, relying instead on much simpler and more user-friendly things, like place names for cities and towns.

How it works

So, say you want to create a bubble map showing the 50 most populated cities in the world. You could go to this Wikipedia page, and copy-paste the list into a spreadsheet. It would look something like this one on the right:

Before, you would then have had to look for the coordinates of each of these 50 cities and enter them into your spreadsheet to enable mapping.

This information wouldn’t have been very hard to find at all, but the whole process would have been time consuming — not to mention immensely boring!

Now we’ve done the hard work for you!

Thanks to a database of cities and towns based on the one over at GeoNames.org — which we have integrated into our app — you can go straight to visualization. Around 120,000 cities and towns throughout the world can be recognized and automatically plotted on the map.

All you need to do is make sure your data also includes the country for each entry. If American cities and towns are part of the list, you’ll need to add state information to avoid problems with very common names. (It may be the land of the free, but it sure isn’t the land of the imaginative town-name-chooser… cf. the 49 Greenvilles, etc.) Our list of 50 cities included New York, so we added a “US State” column, which we left blank for non-US entries.

All that’s left to do is upload your spreadsheet to Mapsdata, and it’s done!

You can have this interactive bubble map of the 50 most populated cities in the world embedded on your blog in less time than it would have taken to find the first few coordinates by hand!

Keep in touch

We’re continuously working to improve our users’ experience and to make mapping data even easier. Let us know what you think on Twitter @Mapsdata, or via email. If you have suggestions for the next types of geo-data we should add support for, we’d especially like to hear from you!

Thanks for your feedback. Now, what are you going to map next?

OpenStreetMap and other worthy causes

OpenStreetMap is a free, worldwide, crowd-sourced map. It’s an extraordinary community running a fantastic project. We are proud to use it and support it, and encourage everyone to participate in their fundraiser.

Why a crowd-sourced map?

Why rely on Google and the likes to map the world? Whether it’s your own street, the place where you work, or where you last went on holidays, all of us have small parts of the world we know like the back of our hand. So why not share that information and make it available to everyone?

Put together, our collective knowledge has the potential to create the most accurate and complete map of the world. Furthermore, we can ensure that the information and the map remain freely available to everyone, without bias or cost. These are the great ideas that underpin OpenStreetMap.

Most importantly, this kind of mapping can really make a difference to people’s lives. For example, the humanitarian response to the Haiti earthquake in 2010 was hugely aided by an amazing community-based effort to map the country. This great video shows the response. And here’s an excellent write up on mapping in Haiti from the HOT: the Humanitarian OpenStreetMap Team. The Crisis Mappers network also does some fantastic work in using technology and crowd-sourcing to help with humanitarian crises.

How you can help

Free stuff costs money. Servers are the biggest cost for OpenSteetMap (OSM), and they’re currently fundraising to be able to run bigger and better ones. If you can, join us in supporting their fantastic work and contribute. Any amount you can donate, no matter how small, will be greatly appreciated.

If you’re strapped for cash, you can help in other ways, like promoting the fundraising drive on Twitter, Facebook, etc. and encouraging others to help out. You can also promote and recognise the amazing work of some the top contributors to OSM – the guys that spend time mapping out distant and frontier regions for nothing more than helping others.

And of course, you can use OpenStreetMap, and sign up for an account to make some edits yourself, and continue to expand, improve, and update OSM.

And next time you see a road or a building that is slightly off, or an area of the map without much detail, take a few minutes to sign in and edit it yourself. It’s a great feeling to know that your little effort can have such great effects.