MissionLocal partners with Stamen Design’s Dotspotting project

MissionLocal.org, a hyperlocal news site run by the UC Berkeley Graduate School of Journalism, has partnered with Stamen Design to display crime maps in the Mission District of San Francisco.

In 2010, Stamen Design won a Knight News Challenge grant to build out a project they called City Tracking. It's goal is to enable people to easily display data visualizations about their community. Dotspotting is one service developed from the grant funding. Dotspotting allows anyone to upload a spreadsheet of data and generate a map with embed code.

A static map built from scratch by Mission Local

Mission Local built crime maps using Photoshop before Dotspotting.

Missionlocal has been doing pseudo-crime maps for months now. An in-house graphic artist builds maps from scratch using Photoshop based on information provided by the Mission Police Department. Any developer might cringe at the thought of such a laborious process, given the rise of automated data applications. It was a no-brainer that a crime mapping service would benefit this hyperlocal news site.

Stamen, whose offices are located in the San Francisco Mission District, approached MissionLocal and offered to collaborate on building out Dotspotting. They needed a test subject to find the kinks in the system.

Here is how it works: Currently, Mission PD e-mails a weekly crime report to MissionLocal. A reporter cleans the data and enters it in a simple Excel spreadsheet. She then uploads the spreadsheet to Dotspotting's website and suddenly a crime map is born.

Stamen built the ability to create custom themes to change the look of the maps and the markers. They also provided MissionLocal with a custom legend with crime types that are most applicable to the MissionDistrict. Here is one such map where reporters realized how prevalent prostitution crimes were during a given week, based by information shown on the map:

Red dot = Violent CrimesBlue dot = Property CrimesGreen dot = Quality of Life Crimesyellow dot = Other Crimes

There are lots of innovative ways to create crime maps these days; Google maps being one of the de facto Web services people use. But what Stamen has done is created a service that specializes in building crime maps from spreadsheet data, a format many journalists can understand a learn relatively quickly. The best part of Dotspotting is that not only is it easy to use, but it adds a layer of technical flexibility for developers who might want to extend it with their own themes and customizations.

Now, I should mention that Dotspotting is very much a beta product and MissionLocal has worked closely with the developers to get these maps out the door. They are continually improving the system and adding features on almost a daily basis.

I've integrated Dotspotting into our WordPress theme CalPress. Putting a Dotspotting map on a website is as easy as copying-and-pasting embed code, but sometimes CMSes like WordPress will strip out parts of the embed code. If you're a WordPress theme developer and you're wanting to create a simple function to make it easy to integrate Dotspotting, you can see the media handling function I wrote here (scroll to the very bottom.)

This entry was posted in MissionLocal. Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to MissionLocal partners with Stamen Design’s Dotspotting project

  1. Hey Jeremy,
    How is Dotspotting an improvement over Zeemaps.com? Mapping a spreadsheet was part of the KDMC workshop years ago, and Zeemaps has served us well. What about Google Fusion?
    Just curious what else I might be able to do.


  2. Jeremy Rue says:

    Hi Gretchen, that’s a very good point. Dotspotting is very similar to Zeemaps. I think the main difference will be the customization of the map’s “look.” Stamen is allowing users to place custom themes on their map.

    Dotspotting is still a works-in-progress, and Zeemaps is probably more polished at this point. But as it continues to grow, I’m excited about the possibilities. Google Fusion is also very powerful – along with Geocommons. I suppose all of these data mapping programs offer something slightly different depending on the user’s needs. It also depends on how comfortable people feel using each program. I wouldn’t encourage re-learning a new mapping software every few months unless it really offers some benefit and fills a need. For us, Stamen was good enough to really help us streamline the workflow specifically for crime maps.

Comments are closed.