Maps, soon to be on wikipedia?

Me and Yaron, my former Google Summer of Code mentor, agreed that Maps would be a good choice as mapping extension on the wikimedia wiki’s, like Wikipedia and There are various reasons why we think Maps is the best choice, but I’m not going to list them here.

I’ve recently discussed this with Ævar, one of the front people in the effort of getting mapping onto wikimedia’s wiki’s. The current plan is to display maps provided by OpenStreetMaps via the OpenLayers API. This includes creating a map tile rendering infrastructure, since the OSM service would simply not be able to cope with all requests if maps are all over Wikipedia. Basically, the complete OSM database will be copied to Wikimedia servers, from where it’ll be processed. Later on data might be directly added to that, loose from OSM. This would allow to add things like bird migration patterns to maps, which is not, and mpost likely will not, be present on OSM. Another big difference with the current usage of maps is that the OL maps won’t be simply ‘shown’ to a user. A requirement to put the mapping onto Wikipedia and the other wiki’s is that it should be usable by people that do not have JavaScript enabled, or use a browser that does not support it (that can happen when you live in the time zone that’s still in the stone age apparently). Concretely this means a rendered static image will be displayed of the map, without any of the map controls. Users will not be able to zoom or pan around since it’s a plain static image (.jpg, .gif, .png, stuff like that). When you click on that image however, it’ll be replaced by the map, after which you will have all functionality that comes with OL available.

The biggest part of the mapping effort is going to the stuff that happens ‘behind the scenes’, meaning the rendering and messing around the data. ATM SlippyMap, a small OL-spesific mapping extension, is used to display the actual results. Ævar agreed that Maps probably would suite the needs as well. This list contains some of the most important changes that will need to be made to Maps to make it suitable for large-scale deployment:

  • Maps should be able to handle images from the rendering infrastructure of Wikimedia Foundation.
  • Maps should support static display functionality, meaning display a regular image on page load, and the dynamic map after it’s clicked.
  • The performance of Maps should be optimized – or at least the part relevant to the display of OSM maps via OL.
  • Maps should be able to display maps without any markers on them.

It would also be nice to have the ability to view high resolution images via OL, the so called image-as-layer feature. This was already on Map’s (and Semantic Map’s) to-do list, but has now gotten a higher priority, since it has pretty much been requested by Brion Vibber, the Wikimedia Foundation CTO (he’s totally awesome at giving awesome presentations about awesome stuff btw, which is of course awesomely awesome).

The underneath video is from Wikimania 2009, in Buenos Aires, showing Ævar talking about the rendering infrastructure and SlippyMap.

If you are interested in Wikimania, be sure to check out Yaron’s email report about it.

This is a great opportunity for me, but will require a lot of work before it’s possible. In any case, I’m looking foreward to adding the new functionality to maps, and see how the performance of both the PHP and JS can be increased.

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