Stamen is a design and technology studio in San Francisco.

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Recent blog posts

Aug 29, 2014

Mapmaker Manifesto: two weeks left to submit maps for the Istanbul Design Biennial!

We are curating maps for an installation we call the Mapmaker Manifesto, to be displayed at the 2014 Istanbul Design Biennial this November and December!

Because of the short timeline, we've set a hard deadline of September 15, 2014 to receive submissions.

For more information, check out the official Call for Maps here: Send your submissions to manifesto [at] stamen [dot] com.

Aug 25, 2014

A new Knight Grant! New Toner! New Infrastructure!

by Eric and Alan

In 2010, Stamen was awarded a Knight News Grant to build tools that help people tell better stories about cities. I'm pleased to announce that we've been awarded another grant from Knight to extend and support this project, as follows:

  • Terrain layers, at all zoom levels, outside the US
  • Transfer the hosting and processing to a cloud-based infrastructure to increase stability, scalability, server response and service levels, creating more reliability and confidence for those considering using the tile sets, & to allow for more frequent data updates
  • Improving the accessibility and openness of the code base for the whole system

All too often, foundations and granting organizations get excited about funding new projects, without adequately considering how to support them once they've been launched. It's great to see Knight stepping out of this mold; Chris Barr and John Bracken are thinking about the future and it's great to have their continued support.

The project is used all over the place, which is great to see. Seth reports that we've served 329 million tiles since July 25th of this year, and 277 million in August so far.

This announcement comes at the same time as we're announcing a fairly substantial update to the project, Toner in particular. We've moved the infrastructure for the project off of Tile Farm, the communal server in Zynga's basement, and it's now living entirely on production-quality servers "in the cloud". We've worked out how to reliably import a whole planet's worth of data from Open Street Map, so you'll start seeing much more up to date data moving forward.

The new Toner also contains some significant design updates. The repo is open source as usual, at But the real pop, for me, is to see how far OSM has come since we last published it. There are so. many. more. buildings! And lakes and rivers and streams and detailed canals and quays and on ramps. The project is just continuing to seriously kick ass, and it's amazing to really dig in to what the army of volunteer mappers who make it happen have been up to.

In the following screenshots, the old Toner tiles are on the left, and new Toner is on the right.

At lower zooms we increased the detail on the coastlines, which will look really sweet on retina displays. Also note South Sudan has been added:

We improved which borders are displayed. Old Toner wasn't showing the borders between England, Scotland, and Wales. Now, that's all we show at this zoom level, and we wait to display smaller subdivisions until you zoom in further:

We use OpenStreetMap at higher zoom levels, and there has been a lot of improvement in the last few years.

The old Toner data was from early 2012, before OpenStreetMap's license change from a Creative Commons Share-Alike license to the Open Database License (ODbL).

Tokyo, Japan shows a lot of improvement, both in the data and how we style it:

Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam shows new roads, but also how the styling of existing roads has improved. The neighborhood streets are more subtle at this zoom level.

Tacloban City, Philippines, now has much more detail thanks to the humanitarian mapping efforts during Typhoon Haiyan/Yolanda

Ponds in Shenzhen, China

A lot of cities in the US now have complete coverage of buildings. We've adjusted Toner's settings so that large buildings show up sooner as you zoom in. For example, in San Francisco, California you can see many more buildings at zoom 14, especially in the former industrial district of Soma.

By zoom 16, you can see all the buildings.

Seattle, Washington also has every building in OSM.

Notice the improved detail along the waterfront.

New York City now has every building, too. And look at those piers!

Seoul, South Korea has more streets and buildings in the center of the city

Munich, Germany

Look at the detail in the harbor of Hamburg, Germany

Paris, France

Amsterdam had a lot of building footprints before, but look at how much detail there is now!

More detail of individual buildings in Rotterdam, Netherlands, too:

You can now see the Parthenon in the Acropolis of Athens, Greece, along with thousands of other buildings

Barcelona, Spain

Rome, Italy

Canals are now visible in Venice, Italy

Enjoy the new project, and if you're interested in learning more about how this work will be extended, you can follow along on GitHub.

Apr 30, 2014

Mapping the Intersection Between Social Media and Open Spaces in California

by Alan

What happens when you map the social media footprint of the great outdoors?

Apr 29, 2014

OpenStreetMap Spring Editathon

by Alan

Last Saturday Stamen hosted the Bay Area edition of the OpenStreetMap Spring Editathon, one of 10 locations across the country.

We had nearly 40 people show up over the course of the day, all of them eager to help contribute to the development of OpenStreetMap, "the Wikipedia of Maps". At Stamen we use OpenStreetMap data in almost all of the maps we make, and we are grateful to the hundreds of thousands of volunteers around the world who have grown the OpenStreetMap database over the years. Hosting editathons is one of the ways we try to give back to the OSM community, and to help grow its membership by introducing new people to the joy of mapping!

Saturday's attendees worked on a variety of projects. One mapped some buildings near his home in Piedmont:

Others worked on tasks for the Humanitarian OpenStreetMap Team, mapping conflict zones in the Central African Republic.

Still others went out into the neighborhood to do some on-the-ground surveying. One contributor used Field Papers to collect data with pen and paper, micromapping the details of street intersections to make OpenStreetMap a more effective navigation tool for the blind.

As always, there was a good mix of experienced OpenStreetMap editors on hand to help the new contributors make their first edits. We'd like to thank everybody who came out to map with us, and we look forward to seeing more of you at the next editathon this summer!

Nov 6, 2013

OpenStreetMap: Every Line Ever, Every Point Ever

by Alan

At Stamen we use OpenStreetMap data in most of the maps we make, including our Watercolor, Toner, and Terrain map tiles. OpenStreetMap is a rich and growing dataset that has been created and maintained by hundreds of thousands of volunteers around the world, and at Stamen we wouldn't be able to do what we do without it.

But it can be hard to visualize the immense amount of work that goes into building and refining a complex dataset like OpenStreetMap. As part of my dissertation research at the University of British Columbia—research that feeds into the work I am doing here at Stamen—I have been looking at the historical OpenStreetMap data to see how the project has grown and evolved over time.

To this end, I created some visualizations of historical OSM data called OpenStreetMap: Every Line Ever, Every Point Ever

The first map, "Every Line Ever", starts from a simple premise: draw every version of every linear feature present in the OpenStreetMap historical data, even if those features have been subsequently deleted. Each line is drawn at 1% opacity, such that areas where multiple linear features are present or where multiple versions of a single feature exist, the lines drawn on the screen will accumulate to produce a darker and darker mark. The result produces a map that is strikingly familiar and readable: freeways appear more prominent than city streets, which are in turn darker and more visible than alleyways. However this hierarchy is not derived from any attributes associated with those features; rather, the hierarchy emerges naturally through the cumulative traces of OSM contributors modifying and refining the map. Inevitably, the features that are important to more people are edited more often, thereby becoming darker traces on this map. On further inspection, it is possible to see how the ghostly initial sketches of some features gradually coalesce into thicker, sharper lines as the collective effort of OSM volunteers settles around a consensus.

Here is the same approach, applied to London, England, where the OpenStreetMap project began:

The second map, "Every Point Ever", follows a similar approach, but using the point features from the OSM history database. In this case, every version of every point is drawn on the map at 1% opacity, but in this map the points are also scaled according to their version number. Thus, a point that has been edited a dozen or even a hundred times will be drawn again and again on the map, represented as an increasingly larger circle. Points that are continually modified in the OSM database will appear to "bleed" onto the page in this map. Where the first map evokes the spidery traces of pencil drawing, this map appears more like a collection of inkblots. Both maps use these metaphors of hand-drawn illustration to reveal the historical traces of effort that normally go unseen when looking at a finished map.

Be sure to try out the interactive version at which allows you to zoom in and see more detail.

I'm also delighted to say that this project won first place at UC Berkeley's map exhibit called "See-Through Maps: Maps that lay bare their point of view", which was part of the Mapping and its Discontents symposium hosted by the Global Urban Humanities Initiative. Please take some time to peruse the other maps in the exhibit; you'll find a wide range of innovative and beautiful maps, and I was proud to present Every Line Ever, Every Point Ever alongside them.

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