MapBox Open Source Toolkit Creates Custom Maps From the Ground Up

by Ostatic Staff - Dec. 07, 2009

Reading maps is pretty easy, creating them is not. MapBox is an online open source toolkit and database of custom tile sets that let you build great-looking maps in Amazon's cloud.

There are three components to MapBox. Tiles is a section filled with various maps of Afghanistan, Washington, DC, and the world. The maps are generated from Shuttle Radar data and other sources, then uploaded to the Web site for anyone to use.

Data is plugged into the maps via OpenStreetMap, a free and editable map of the world, or TIGER US Census Data. TIGER provides a tremendous amount of geographical data, including states, counties, subdivisions, districts, and more.

Tilemill is the site's tile rendering engine. It generates map tiles and supports multi-process uploads to Amazon S3 so users can distribute data through Amazon's CloudFront CDN. The two-part toolkit includes a preconfigured rendering server and a set of tools that let users track and submit jobs, and control instances.

The recently-launched Web site still has a ways to go before it's full-featured enough to use on big or complex projects. The unique site is worth looking at, however, because it's a neat way to create custom maps from the ground up.