CartoGrammar

Lead Research Organisation: University of Edinburgh
Department Name: Information Services

Abstract

The primary purpose of CartoGrammar is to provide readily usable (and reusable) tools for the generation and showcasing of bespoke custom cartograms. The aim is to deliver, by building on prior-art, a suite of tools that will make the generation, showcasing, visibility and long term curation of cartogram outputs readily achievable.

Cartograms have broad appeal and wide applicability as both a visualistaion and an analytical tool for social scientists. They have intrinsic merit in their own right as the pursuit of alternative, more efficient algorithms testify. They have been a mainstay of human geographers for several decades (Tobler 2004). Yet their adoption across the broad range of social science disciplines remains under-exploited and they can be perceived as arcane and a 'geographers only' tool. This is unfortunate and somewhat paradoxical given their increasing mainstream popularity e.g. witnessed by their use in national press coverage and in the production of various comparative and analytical broad appeal Atlases and popular websites such as worldmapper.org.

In part this is because cartograms remain computationally expensive to create and that the available software tools for their production are neither well known, standardised in a functionality nor in operating environment. All of this conspires to act as a barrier to wider adoption across a range of social science disciplines (and societal acceptance more broadly - although as noted, these types of visualisations are becoming increasingly popular - see for example the Guardians 2010 election results interactive cartogram [http://www.guardian.co.uk/politics/interactive/2010/apr/05/general-election-map-swingometer] or the governmner sponsored dataviz site [http://www.improving-visualisation.org/] ), to which they have relevance.

Tobler (2004), provides a useful summary of the developments in the creation and use of cartograms over the last thirty-five years, including an early reference to the 'next wave' in the development and production of cartograms such as the Gastner-Newman 'density equalising' algortihm which will be deployed in the service proposed here.

in summary, we will build:

* a simple, easy to use web service and API for the production of user generated bespoke custom cartograms;
* a web site which will exploit that API to provide a mechanism for the production, storage and curation of user generated cartograms;
* a backend compute and storage capacity that will remove the barriers to cartogram production and allow for their persistence and community sharing;
* a 'cut & paste' style Javascript widget that novices can readily deploy to provide the custom cartogram generation facility into any web site
* a cross-discipline social science community of cartogram users and advocates.

Planned Impact

Who will benefit from this research? List any beneficiaries from the research, for example those
who are likely to be interested in or to benefit from the proposed research - both directly or
indirectly. Beneficiaries must consist of a wider group than that of the investigators' immediate
professional circle carrying out similar research

A wide range of stakeholders will benefit from this work. They include those involved in social science research across a broad range of disciplines in which map visualisations are pertinent such as human geography, geology, politics, economics, statistics, media studies etc. Additionally, as highlighted under the Academic Beneficiaries section, there are a range of teaching and learning audiences that will benefit. More generally, the service and supporting tools developed will benefit non-academic users and third party service providers and websites e.g. worldmapper.org. The establishment of a simple 'mashable' API will encourage and be of benefit to system developers whilst the website itself and the pre-built Javascript widget will encourage a broader audience to avail of the core functionality on offer. Anyone with an interest in generating cartograms will benefit as the proposed service removes the effort and overhead traditionally associated with creating these types of outputs.

By lowering the entry bar to the generation and sharing of these sorts of visualisations and data outputs, we will assist in fostering a self-help community of users and thereby the adoption of the technique across disciplinary boundaries. We will provide a framework in which cartogram use and the sharing of new derived datasets becomes readily achievable and this will assist in addressing the current imbalance between the perceived utility of the technique against the practical difficulties encountered in its implementation. Our primary goal is to improve the relevance and the application of cartograms as widely as possible by providing robust tooling supporting a range of end use cases (third party service provider,researcher, teacher, learner) and a showcase forum for sharing and re-purposing both primary data and derived outputs.

Publications

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Title CartoGrammar 
Description An online tool to crate, manage and share cartograms 
Type Of Material Improvements to research infrastructure 
Year Produced 2008 
Provided To Others? Yes  
Impact Assisted NHS Glasgow in internal report production for 
URL http://cartogrammar.edina.ac.uk