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June 20, 2005

"Web Mapping Illustrated": Map the World You Live In

Sebastopol, CA--Mankind's fascination with maps transcends all cultures. More than useful tools for navigating from point A to point B, maps allow us to represent the world in meaningful ways. In everyday life, people collect information from a variety of maps: road, topographic, climate, economic, political, and more. Not so long ago, cartographers drew and colored their maps by hand, but digital maps have opened up a whole new range of possibilities, as author Tyler Mitchell observes. In the next five to ten years, he asserts, mapping tools will be as ubiquitous as word processors, web browsers, and database applications. Mapping technology will bring additional dimensions into the information/knowledge management world.

Maps are powerful; having the tools and the ability to map the world you live in is even more powerful. In his book, Web Mapping Illustrated (O'Reilly, US $39.95), Mitchell shows readers how to create maps, including interactive maps, using free tools such as MapServer, OpenEV, GDAL/OGR, and PostGIS. He also explains how to find, collect, understand, use, and share mapping data over the Web and through other services.

Mitchell's own fascination with maps and exploration, combined with his interest in computers, led him to the field of computerized mapping and geographic information systems (GIS). He began his investigation of open source GIS and mapping alternatives when he wanted to do digital mapping at home but lacked the proprietary tools he had access to at work. He says, "I dove in, head-first, and have never looked back. I've been bringing these tools into the corporate enterprise and am replacing proprietary tools or filling capability gaps. It is rather ironic that the proprietary licensing pushed me to find alternatives which are, in turn, supplanting the proprietary."

The tools he introduces in Web Mapping Illustrated are a critical set from Mitchell's professional data management toolbox. Because they are open source, they're free for readers to use and adopt as they see fit. And, as Mitchell points out, many of the tools are pushing the envelope of what commercial mapping products can do. "When I started to explore the open source tools and get a taste for the possibilities, I got really excited," Mitchell recalls. "It had been a long time since I felt so excited about GIS and mapping technologies. As I introduce these tools to others, I see them get inspired as well.

"The proprietary tools offer very little to be inspired about," Mitchell continues. "They're not about possibilities, but about limitations. After years of using the standard proprietary tools, most professionals are ready for something more liberating. Hoping to encourage this liberation is part of the reason why I wrote this book."

Web Mapping Illustrated is not an academic exercise, but an entirely practical guide designed to get readers up and running quickly. Readers will learn to do everything shown in the book, using free tools. From planning a mapping project to converting data and publishing a web mapping application, there are projects for everyone. Because it's rare that a person can both manage geospatial data and develop web-mapping applications, Mitchell introduces topics using language that both groups can understand, providing content geared for each. But the audience is not limited to GIS professionals and web developers. As mapping and location-based technologies (LBS) surge ahead, the demand for education and tools for handling geospatial data becomes greater.

"Readers should know that geospatial data is going to become a part of their lives, if it isn't already," says Mitchell. "Traditional data management tools are not going to be enough for them to understand or interact with his data. Database managers will need to learn to handle geographic coordinate data types. Software developers will need to know how to efficiently render maps. Mapping professionals will need to know how to access remote data sources in real-time. To be effective, any corporate team will require a much broader knowledge in these areas. My book helps to bridge the gaps between these groups."

Additional Resources:

Web Mapping Illustrated
Tyler Mitchell
ISBN: 0-596-00865-1, 368 pages, $39.95 US, $55.95 CA
order@oreilly.com
1-800-998-9938; 1-707-827-7000

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