In the previous section we discussed web maps as though there was only a single, unified map of the world from New York to Paris to Tokyo. In reality Mapbox isn’t designed for a single map. It’s an open platform meant for developers, designers, journalists, and cartographers to create thousands of custom maps to fit their own particular needs.
To many the term “web map” conjures up an image of a road map – a map meant to help you get from one place to another by roads, usually in a car, bus or bicycle. There are many other types of maps and many of them are now leveraging web mapping conventions to become more accessible, powerful, and usable.
A quick sampling of such maps in the world will quickly convince you that no single map can cover the needs of everyone. Environmental organizations like InfoAmazonia show data like deforestation trends alongside recent events. News organizations like NPR highlight big data and show how pollution affects rust belt communities or towns located near major rivers. Hackers like Mapbox’s own Tom MacWright use maps to explore abstract spaces like that of a maze-generation algorithm.
To keep such a diverse body of custom maps and use cases from diverging in technology and design, Mapbox is built from open specifications. While these specifications range from solving problems that are mind-numbingly hard to completely mundane, they all try to keep the solution simple and direct.
In the following sections we’ll look at the following problems and the approach Mapbox takes to solving each one:
We’ve looked at how Mapbox is a platform meant to handle not just one, but thousands of custom web maps. In the next section we’ll look at how TileJSON simplifies the task of working with any custom map, whether it spans the globe or just your backyard.