TargetMap let’s you put your data on – well – a map

Today I first heard about TargetMap. TargetMap is a mapping portal in public beta. Everybody can create customised maps with their own data (so-called ReportMaps). The interface for creating a ReportMap and the display of a ReportMap is implemented in Flash – and thus requires a bypass of your Flash blocking software (and cannot be consumed using iDevices).

Using the TargetMap wizard you can choose the world, a region or specific countries to be mapped. TargetMap then offers various options to bring data onto your map. You can:

  • upload an Excel file containing the data
  • type values directly into a TargetMap table
  • paint a map (assign different colours to different regions by clicking on them)
  • load your own ReportMaps or others’ public ReportMaps and use them as a template or background for your own
  • use something called a Sales Territory Manager (this option comes only with a private subscription and thus I haven’t tested it)

Costs
The service is essentially free if used for public maps. If you don’t want your data to be on display publicly, you can opt to create maps for your own exclusive use – this, however, requires you to pay a fee to TargetMap (somewhat hefty 195$ for an annual subscription).

Pros and cons
Unfortunately, if you visualise a global dataset as a choropleth map, the country boundaries are rather rough cut and don’t approximate the underlying basemap very well. When you zoom in, this results in jagged country outlines. For Switzerland, however, TargetMap offers both cantons (an administrative division) and larger regions as mapping units at a reasonable resolution: nice! I also like that TargetMaps allows the combination of choropleth backdrop map and pushpins in the foreground. Also, labels can be placed and styled manually and the appearance of, for example, region borders can be customised with regards to stroke thickness and colour.
The base maps are the usual selection which you can get from Google Maps (Satellite, Hybrid, Road, Physical). The legend is not too sophisticated: it can display data on a continuous range defined by three colours or using a customisable number of classes. However, there is no indication (and, consequently, no option to choose) as to what scaling is used for the continuous display of the data. Of course the guess is then that TargetMap simply uses a linear stretch with the middle colour probably representing the average in the data.

Examples
When one registers with their Service TargetMap nicely says “Remember, it’s free! We just ask you to publish quality maps & to share your knowledge!” So what do people map using TargetMap? I found two maps of Switzerland by a user Fabien Fivaz. Both maps are of the quality kind, I would say.

The first map displays the voting results by canton of a Swiss national vote on whether criminal foreigners should be forced out of the country as a backdrop. This information is suitably overlaid with the proportion of foreigners per canton as a point data set. Somewhat unsurprising to a Swiss, as a tendency the cantons with proportionally fewest foreigners are those which demand for the strictest immigration laws:

The second map by Fabien Fivaz displays the voting results on a more restrictive gun law, which has been proposed but then didn’t pass. This map is also informative, if you know the country a little. More conservative cantons and cantons with lots of army infrastructure tend to have the highest proportions of nay-sayers to the more restrictive gun law:


Further, there are maps which pick up on the latest news. For example, from TargetMap themselves comes a map of radiation in Japanese prefectures which has been viewed 700k+ times so far:


Another map shows the voting of member countries of the UN Security Council with respect to the latest UN resolution on Libya:

In other news, under the Most Viewed Maps there are some by a certain onionSlayer, which are mildly NSFW. Consider yourself warned ;)

Conclusion
I mostly like the interface and functionality. The various options of how to bring your data onto a map are well chosen and can certainly be advantageous especially for less experienced users. TargetMap also offers simple means of sharing your ReportMap: you can publish to Twitter and Facebook and there is a handy “Embed” link, which provides the source code to use the map on your own website.
On the downside there is the implementation in Flash plus limitations with regards to symbolisation and legend design (additionally to the ones already mentioned, I think the design of the point symbol legend is not intuitively understandable at all). It would be nice, if TargetMap included the possibility to choose additional basemaps to the ones by Google (OpenStreetMap, anyone? Possibly with Cloudmade styling). If it has to be in a Flash container,  Flash Earth, for example,  unites two map providers on their platform. Lastly, if you want to create private maps using TargetMap, you face a substantial fee for using the service to that end.
Overall, TargetMap reminds me of GeoCommons by GeoIQ (formerly known as FortiusOne). I will review that service in a later post.

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