Aug 29, 2008
One of the early issues we ran into in planning out the base layer—the tiles that everything gets placed on—is that the Olympic park is an active construction zone, with things changing month by month, and will be for the next few years. So none of the usual mapping services could show what the construction site really looks like. Google maps, for example, shows the area as all built up and full of houses, which it hasn't been for some time—same for Microsoft and Yahoo. Since we're working with the people who are building the park, it's been relatively easy to get updated aerial views of the construction site—but it's not like we can ask for new photographs of the whole UK every time something changes. So there had to be some way to differentiate between the park itself, where most of the active construction's happening, and the rest of the UK, where things are moving at a somewhat more measured pace.
Another issue that came up is that we wanted to find a way to bring the LOCOG branding scheme (some people have a hard time with it, I think it's great; examples here and here) into the project, so it didn't look like every other mapping service out there. We're increasingly of the opinion that while embedding a Google map into your site is simple, it's better branding for Google than it is for you. So we generated a new set of tiles that (we hope) work well with the overall look of the site (for more on this, Stamen's Mike Migurski has a great post about the technical details involved in this kind of thing, as well as an assessment of the state of the art in this line of work).
So then the way these two issues interact with each other is simplicity itself: the park is rendered as a more or less up-to-date "satellite" image (they're actually painstakingly stitched together from pictures taken from an airplane), the rest of the UK is rendered in branded colors, and your eyes tell you where the difference is. And there are a few things—rivers, trainlines etc.—that snake in and out of the park, & stitch the whole thing together. Some examples:
So, huzzah, and more to come.