The Future of Online Location Tracking?

You’ve probably noticed by now that mapme.at has had a bit of a makeover recently. This was all done as part of a changeover to using mapping services from CloudMade, a London and San Francisco based company aiming to bring the power of crowd sourced data from OpenStreetMap to more people. CloudMade were so impressed with our integration of their services that they asked us to speak at their recent developer launch events. We decided to take that opportunity to make a few announcements that we hope you’ll be excited to read about below.

mapme.at logo

Great New Look and Feel

For our new design we enlisted the help of the great team at Cogniance. They worked with us to provide a new logo and overall look and feel. They also gave us some ideas for improvements to the user experience; many of these have been implemented already but some are still on the list to be completed soon. We’re really happy about how the new look has turned out, the bright colours really inject life into the site and the fact that we’ve been able to tie these in with the map is just amazing, more on that in a moment…

CloudMade Integration

So far we’re taking advantage of just a few of the great services that CloudMade provide. In the previous section I mentioned the fact that we have been able to link our colourscheme into the colours used in the map. This is possible due to the groundbreaking new “Style Editor” tool from CloudMade. With this you can edit the styles used in the map to your heart’s content. Our map style was based on one that CloudMade call “The Original”, this looks really nice and only required us to spend a short time playing with the style editor to get it coordinating with our colours.

We’re also using the Geocoding services that CloudMade provide. Geocoding is the process by which a computer takes a written address, such as “10 Downing Street, London” and converts it to a latitude and longitude. We use this service on the homepage to make it easier for you to find your current location and create favourites, and with the twitter integration when you’re out and about. We’re really happy with the results we’re seeing from this service and we know that CloudMade are working hard to make it even better.

By using the unique OpenStreetMap dataset CloudMade are able to provide some really good services giving us access to the data at a very low level. We’ve got some ideas for how we can more closely integrate them into the services we provide on mapme.at and you should see these developing over the coming months.

You may notice that OpenStreetMap and therefore CloudMade do not have street level coverage worldwide. It’s actually the case that no mapping provider currently has coverage throughout the world and, similar in some ways to those providers, OpenStreetMap has some areas with better coverage than others. The one big difference is that if you find that the coverage around the locations that you visit often is lacking, you can get involved with improving this. We at mapme.at are big fans of the OpenStreetMap project and have been contributing for a number of years. We whole-heartedly recommend that you get involved, you might want to try signing up to their mailing lists or just take a look through their “wiki” to find out how to get involved.

New OAuth Developer API

At mapme.at we’ve always tried to make it as easy as possible for you to update your location. We already provide integration with Twitter and with FireEagle. You can update your location through the web, via email or even using DNS. So far though all of these integrations have required us to do most of the work on our side, meaning that you couldn’t use a new method, such as a new mobile app, until we had done some work integrating it. We are now opening up an API (Application Programming Interface) so that any developer can sign up and integrate their application with the mapme.at site.

An API is essentially a set of instructions and methods that we give to developers that tell them how to access our website and update the data that we store here. Obviously it wouldn’t be very good if just anybody could access all the data we store, or change everybody’s data so to stop that we use authentication. We’ve decided to use the OAuth authentication scheme to make sure that we take the best possible care with your data, while allowing you to make the most of third party services that will enrich your experience of mapme.at. OAuth allows you to give permission to a third party service to access or update your data on mapme.at without you needing to give them your username and password. This means that if at some point in the future you decide that you don’t want this service having access to your data, you can simply revoke that access from our website. If, for instance, you gave a mobile app on your phone access to your data, and then lost your phone, you could still revoke the access even though you can’t use your phone.

If you’re interested in trying this out then you can find the documentation about our API here. We’re just starting out with this so we’re declaring that our API is currently in “beta” mode. This means that we’re still working on it and the way it works is likely to change in the future, we’ll try to keep you informed in advance of any major changes though. We’ll also be working to extend the documentation further to cover more aspects of the API.

one more thing… iPhone!

The final thing that we mentioned in the talk at CloudMade is that we’re currently working on a native iPhone app to really simplify use of the mapme.at services on the iPhone. It will use our custom map tiles so will look really good, and will allow you to update your location, see which of your contacts are nearby and continously track your location. It’s still going to be a few more weeks before it’s ready but as soon as it is, we’ll let you know!

As you can tell there’s been a lot happening recently with the mapme.at site. The development doesn’t end here though so we’ll be continuing to add new features over the coming months. We’ll also be extending the documentation not just for the new developer API but also the documentation for the site in general. Finally we’ll try to keep you more in the loop by keeping this blog active, so sign up with your favourite RSS reader to make sure you hear it about it straight away!

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