Blackbridge, with their constellation of 5 satellites, just launched the new satellite imagery interface aiding the search for flight MH370. Their new app allow users to quickly dig through the large amounts of imagery, looking for plane parts or oil slicks. The site had over 1.5 million map views this weekend, only took 5 hours to build and launch, and has received over 200 reports to investigate — not only are they clearly visible on the map, but easy to skim. Everything was built using open source tools.

Imagery UI Making it easy to make a note on the map

The imagery was all processed with TileMill, our open source design studio. Once processed, Blackbridge loaded all the maps into their high-capacity Enterprise account, which automatically scales (everyone from Pinterest to foursquare to Github is on our cloud so traffic is never a problem). The web UI that pulls the imagery from their mapbox account is simply mapbox.js. We sometimes joke that we are like a Lego company — but it really works like this. We put out pieces that all plug together to make publishing easy. Most interesting is how easy it is to make something custom like this using mapbox.js plugins.

Here are three quick API plugins used by Blackbridge that make the site work well that were all off the shelf:

Interactive map: We need to make it easy for users to quick zoom around the map to make searching fast. Everything here is just plain vanilla mapbox.js.

Clustering: All notes people make on the map are stored in a spreadsheet and displayed instantly on the map via JSON. We use the mapbox.js clustering plugin to have the markers render and filter in real time.

URL hashing: Every point on the map can be linked to. For example you can zoom right into where something tagged a potential oil slick.

Take a look through the imagery for yourself and see what you can find. If you’re interested in Mapbox.js, check out our new developer section. If you have any questions about the imagery or the UI, reach out to me @bobws or email us at