Saturday, 17 August 2013

Tube Map Eye Candy

TheNextWeb.com are pointing to what they call a 'stunning map': an experiment by Bruno Imbrizi that purports to show real-time tube traffic on London's Underground railway. It's got slick graphics, sound, moving things, slippy rotate and pan. What more could you possibly want? Well it's an experiment so it's not like it's purporting to be anything it isn't but...



Here we have a perfect example of one of those self-styled tech-guru web magazines getting all excited about something that looks good without bothering to question it critically.  Sure, it looks beautiful (it does..but then so do many of today's s-called viral maps!) but...it's not real-time and that's just the tip of the iceberg.

So the author has successfully scraped tfL data. Great. So have many others. He's used his undoubted eye for visual design to create an aesthetically pleasing piece of web-art but how can it offer any practical use beyond being simply web-art? You can't navigate by it. You can't actually see where the interconnections are. You can't use it as a route planner. You can't figure out where stations are without clicking them all. It has a sound track...why do we need a sound track? Soundscapes are valuable but as a component of a map they should be linked to something and not just as an atmospheric backdrop. You can speed up the trains...why? A few quick spins and you have no idea which way is up, down, left or right. Is tube line depth what defines the z information?  Apparently so but of course there's some modification in order to accommodate parallel lines and so forth. Web-art yes. A map, no, because it doesn't function as a map.

So a Technology focused media company (their words) thinks this is the dogs b*llocks in mapping eh? Great reporting...now, let's go find Mr Beck's old map and see how that compares.  Beck's map is beautiful in its own right and actually functions as a map with a purpose. It's a shame that Beck's map continues to be re-worked when it doesn't really need it.  Technology is moving fast but how many tech-driven transit maps still struggle to capture and frame the network like Beck? It's also a shame that so many people will read The Next Web's review and believe the hype.  This map will likely pop up all over the place over the next few weeks as more media networks find it and blindly promote it. Wouldn't it be refreshing for one of the big guns to offer some critical comment rather than bland kudos.

Which reminds me...I've got a huge London Underground interactive web map project still on the back-burner that I really ought to get done...

UPDATE: Now Gizmodo are all over it...

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