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Maps, tiles markers and clustering

Saturday, March 28th, 2015 by Servage

maps-markersMany web applications are utilizing interactive maps to emphasize their geographic content. It is suitable in many cases like store locators, real estate listings, travel reviews etc., and maps have become a well known and easily understood element by visitors. Therefore maps are no longer just a smart little square somewhere, but in some web applications maps have become the centerpiece, taking up large parts of the screen space and being the main element the user interacts with.

Maps

Good examples of map driven applications utilize maps in different ways, but have in common that the map provides significant value for the user. Being able to implement maps nicely is therefore helping you to achieve both content, function and design goals for your project.

Tiles

The map displays tiles which are the actual images illustrating the geography, roads, city names etc. With some map-providers, the actual images can be modified to fit your purpose or design. It is an advantage to walk the extra mile and actually customize the map to your brand. Thereby you lift the design experience to a whole new level of visual integration between your map and the rest of the layout. You can furthermore customize tiles to show just the information you want on the map, changing it even more to be a custom solution rather than a standard map.

Markers

Markers are usually required when working with map-based applications. They illustrate content at specific positions on a map, and can be combined with overlays to show more information about them. Markers can be everything from tiny dots to large icon-based illustrations.

Clustering

Working with large amounts of data points in geo applications usually tends to render many markers on maps. This may contradict the usability when markers start to clutter the overview, overlay each other, and in other ways decrease the usability of the map. Clustering has been invented to solve this problem by collecting geographically related markers and group them into fewer markers. The clustering can be dynamic to change depending on amount of markers on the map, and the given zoom level. Applying good clustering techniques makes all the difference between poor overcrowded maps, and super nice ones.

Map providers

There are a few providers of map solutions, probably lead by Google Maps. However, other providers may prove more useful to your specific needs. Mapbox is a smaller and less known provider, but they offer customizable tiles, which can be designed via their own application called TileMill. Using that program you can use a CSS-like language to style map tiles to be displayed by your map.

Choosing the right provider depends on your technical requirements, and the purpose of your map. All providers usually offer free usage for smaller projects, but pricing may vary significantly for bigger projects.

Code libraries

The technical implementation into your website is usually done via Javascript. Most providers have pretty extensive libraries available, so building map-related features should be swift. The providers mentioned above go for different approaches, because Google has chosen to build their own solution, while Mapbox is building upon the open source map library Leaflet. Both solutions provide a wide range of options, but the open source solution may prove more adaptable for special requirements.

Maps, tiles markers and clustering, 4.3 out of 5 based on 6 ratings
Categories: Guides & Tutorials, Software & Webapps

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