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A new kind of map: it’s about time (mapbox.com)
968 points by uptown on Sept 20, 2017 | hide | past | favorite | 201 comments

I think this is great, but I can see it being potentially improved further if there was a temporary overlay of the physical map whenever you hover over a destination.

Basically, I feel that completely removing the physical map is okay until you've picked a target. Then, having to click on it to be able to see what the route looks like (which streets to take, etc.) is higher friction than I'd like. Instead, imagine if hovering would give you a route overlay, and as you hover your mouse over multiple places you're considering, you're already aware of the physical directions as well.

Having to click back and forth feels quite constraining.

This is simply feedback on a way I think it could be improved further, not to take away from how good it already is.

Location cues like "near the lake" or "near the train station" or "near the homeless camp" are critical pieces of information for me before I pick a target.

I wonder if some sort of projection would help there: expand areas around the points of interest, and compress space between points.

Perhaps morphing the physical map to match the time would work?

Haven't fully thought it through, but I think such a projection would be unintelligible in most cases - it would probably only look remotely 'intuitive' if travel time would always increase with distance.

For a real city, it would likely just be very weirdly morphed blobs of the map all cut up and smushed back together, with bizarrely curved roads, non-aligning roads & train lines, etc.

Now I definitely want to see that map, just for kicks.

Here's such a map for Singapore we created quite a while ago: http://xiaoji-chen.com/2011/isochronic-singapore/ http://www.chsommer.com/isosin.htm

The more I think about this, the more I'm convinced it'll work. Somehow making the map truly dynamic by changing the scale according to the time it takes to reach the destination will be helpful. So the scale of the map changes as per the traffic and other factors that affect the time taken to reach specific destinations. This should work, yeah.

Best, although I don't really know how you'd do it computationally, would be something like a London Subway map... schematically correct but only geographically accurate in a broad sense.

How about deform the physical map by a deformation field defined by ETA (i.e. stretch and compress)? e.g. https://www.slicer.org/wiki/Documentation/4.2/Modules/Deform...

What would be cool about this is that it is still a map of the map, but the unit becomes time adjusted mile.

Perhaps you can go even further and try to make it so that any two points have pairwise correct distances, like in the Azimuthal equidistant projection?


Perhaps there are metric functions where this is not possible (a quick proof eludes me...[1]), but approximations might be possible anyway.

[1] Edit: actually it's quite simple. Any non-isotropic metric cannot have an Euclidean equidistant projection, simply take a pair of points lying in rays (1,0) and (0,1) in an L^p metric, p not 2, as a counterexample.

Edit2: Forget everything I said :) My geometry is quite rusty I guess. Not only any non-isotropic metric cannot have an Euclidean equidistant projection, any non-Euclidean metric clearly can't have an Euclidean equidistant projection. Metric spaces are defined by pairwise distances! What you can do however, is make the distance to 1 or 2 arbitrarily chosen points correct.

I actually did this for my bachelor's thesis[1] (maps on p52-53). It's not a pure time-distance representation (constraints on angular distortion to preserve similarity to conventional maps), but anyway. Data is from railway/tram time tables.

[1] http://lazarus.elte.hu/hun/digkonyv/szakdolg/2013-bsc/baranc... (in Hungarian)

And given a suitable vector representation of the street layout, the stretch-and-compress could be given constraints so as not to warp (i.e. curve streets on) the map

My thought exactly.

I think the idea is to keep mobile and desktop in sync here. And mobile doesn't have a "finger over" event I think.

Peek/Pop works on iOS for 6S and above.

Press and hold?

It would be neat if they skewed the map to match travel times.

I don’t think this is a transformation that can be performed by only stretching and deforming the surface (e.g., the maps of a city with time units vs distance units aren’t homomorphic).

Imagine starting on the far south end of a congested city surrounded by a circular, relatively low-traffic highway. Points on the northern end of the city would be “closer” on such a map than points directly in the center.

You could certainly define a transformation that accounts for this, but I think it would necessarily defy most people’s intuitive interpretation of such a map.

You could resolve it by cutting the circular highway att the furthest point, and let the surrounded are baloon out. The map would still make sense close to the user.

i agree. hover a geo map and have an easy 'hide this' button to hit that will remove the entry and take you back to the timemap.

choosing where to go for lunch will be a flash.

Mapumental[1] does something like this - it shows how far you can get with public transport from a postcode in a certain amount of time.

[1] https://mapumental.com/)

It really shines in dense urban areas like the example in Oakland CA. The route overlay would be really important if there's anything like super busy roads or no sidewalks available.

or just keep the "time circles", only make them not circles but rather a spline connecting all the 5-minute-away dots.

Hovering? Like with a mouse?

It's still easy to forget that many people use applications on devices with only primitive input options available :).

Yup, if I'm looking for directions I'm probably on my phone, not at a computer. I guess others didn't get the point/joke, hence the downvotes?

I wrote my comment vaguely on purpose, but 19 hours later: yes, I meant touchscreen as primitive input mechanisms, compared to a mouse pointer.

By removing literal geography, we now have a map that more closely reflects the way we think about our environment: a cluster of restaurants “five minutes that way” versus “ten minutes the other.”

Speak for yourself! I feel way more confident getting around when I know the actual geography.

As a geographer I cringed. The article was written in a way that made it sound a bit more important than it actually is, and I think that quote was one of it. A designer finding geography and cartography for the first time. It IS good stuff though. Maybe the writing is stylised and maybe not as humble as usual techy writing?

People do think about space and the environment in spatial terms and also in time. This article is basically replaying the same failure that Google is showing - that maps only have an economic value. "Pizza in San Francisco" has been a meme in geospatial hacker land for over a decade and this is another incarnation of it. People think about space in non economic terms more than in terms of how to sell stuff via advertisements. We think about safety, attractiveness, how accessible it is, whats the parking like, who we are with, where next we are going to, what is the ambiance like, how will it be when we try to get home, crime levels, any nearby arts and events on, is the football on at the stadium, is it a weekday or a weeknight, is it near a university, is it during term time, what kind of people are nearby, are the streets well lit, how noisy are the streets. etc. etc.

Now - this doesn't discount the work. I think that a 2D map - the paper analogy onto digital form also isn't good, so any research and attempt to think about what's good and working is worth looking at. Care should be taken when giving psychological or psychogeographical points to such different designs.

I don't see the article arguing that all maps should be replaced with this visualization. It's a much better map for certain tasks. Of course you lose information by throwing out geography.

The issue is that people slide from it being a good map for some particular purpose to some blanket claim that all people really need to know is is <insert specific thing here>. The old classic case of this is geographically challenged reporters raphsodising about the London tube map https://tfl.gov.uk/maps/track/tube.

I love the London tube map, but when I lived there, it was all the more useful to me because I look at other maps so that I could know that certain stations were in easy walking distance from each other or some other place I was going to.

I disagree about the London tube map. I think it's brilliant. I barely looked at a real map any of the times I've stayed in London. I know the places I want to go, all the guide books (and locals!) tell you the nearest tube station, I know the nearest tube station to where I am. Why do I need a 'real' map?

>> Why do I need a 'real' map?

Canonical answer: Queensway to Bayswater

Tube route: Queensway → Notting Hill Gate change train Notting Hill Gate → Bayswater The journey time between these two London underground stations is approximately 15 minutes

Or just walk. It takes 2 minutes.

Having lived in London for a while now, I find myself preferring the tube lines overlaid on a physical map, so that you can reason better about how to get where you want to go (obviously supplemented heavily by Citymapper and Google maps).

I guess that when your abstraction is at the level of start station and end station, that is where the value of the tube map is.

I agree. I'm becoming slightly irritated by blog posts that claim something as new that appears to be either nil improvement or minor increment from what has gone before. This isn't the first or the second time I've seen it from MapBox, and I'm now sceptical of what they seem to claiming as real breakthroughs. There are thousands of researchers involved in geo worldwide - every time I dip into a journal I am humbled by the progress that is being made and the depth of the research that is being performed. Are we really to believe that MapBox are finding things that the global research community have missed? I suspect HN is a ready audience as most users do not have a formal education in geo.

There are beautiful isochrone maps for Manhattan, check these out for something quite pretty and useful:



It’s easy to imagine zooming in and using the colors for a 10 minute Subway/walkability combo for e.g. restaurant finding.

Yeah. This is showy and really cool. But it seems kind of unnecessary to make it "a map"

In terms of solving real problems, I don't see it as functionally any better than a list ordered by distance with a small compass showing directionality. Basically what you see on the left when you search google maps for "pizza in san francisco".

The benefit of that list is that it uses space much more efficiently and can show things like ratings and thumbnails. Whereas in the article's ui, you have to click on every circle to see what it is.

Put another way, maps are incredibly information dense but when you remove most of the information from them, they're just dense.

It's actually much more useful as a spatial data visualization then as a "map" as such.


Can you explain the "Pizza in San Francisco" meme? Not sure I get the joke.

What “problem” is a young single white male developer in San Francisco trying to solve?

What problems are (NOT (young, single, white, male, developer, in San Francisco)) trying to solve?

What is the Venn diagram of those problem sets? The market size? The impact?

If aiming to build a business that works outside the Silicon Valley bubble, you can go wildly wrong by designing for, appealing to, and getting traction in the tiny set.

I believe that "meme" in this context is being used within the dictionary definition of the word, meaning "an idea, behavior, style, or usage that spreads from person to person within a culture" according to Merriam-Webster.

That's the definition I'm using. I don't understand what's so noteworthy or funny about that example for it to become a meme.

I'm guessing, but presumably "pizza in San Francisco" is a representative GIS problem that pushes all the right buttons and acts as a good shakedown test, and has become a "standard".

I thought it meant that Google et al are all trying to solve the "pizza in San Francisco" problem (i.e. trying to find local businesses) and not trying to solve the problems that people are actually turning to maps for, because "pizza in San Francisco" is an obviously-monetizable problem.

One thing I immediately wondered after reading the article was: do you factor "search for parking space" in the time you calculate for driving to a place? (I live in Europe and this is a significant concern in our densely populated urban centers).

Imo when it comes to that there is a huge difference between men and women, or perhaps more accurately people who are highly skilled in map-reading vs people who aren't.

In general men prefer to navigate using a map, cardinal directions and can adapt their routefinding on the fly (the actual geography); women prefer to navigate using turn-by-turn directions and fixed landmarks ("five minutes that way," "make the second right," etc)

I've noticed this a lot, for example when traveling in a third-world country where education is not widespread I know many people outside of cab drivers can't actually read maps. It's something we take for granted in the US. So when my friend was trying to give a local directions to a certain place by pointing to different places on a map, the local wasn't understanding. When I stepped in and provided turn by turn directions pointing on the actual street, away from the map, she understood.

In case it's unclear to anyone reading this, it's not just anecdotal: this has actually been studied http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2008/01...

Right, I didn't mean to imply it was settled science, just that it was more than an anecdotal just-so story.

EDIT: Hold on, did you even read the links that you shared? Neither of them dispute the difference in preference/skill at different forms of navigation between genders. They just dispute the point that it's something that's genetically inherent (a point that nobody in this comment thread made). There's no need to immediately map everything you read to the closest political controversy and then draw the battle lines.

Map reading is a learnt skill, it doesn't come naturally to anyone regardless of sex, culture, background.

Now, navigation and a kind of natural spatial knowledge is different, and I'd like to learn more about this. I would imagine it would be an innate skill to humans, but be limited to a certain size / level of detail. E.g forest floor, village, a couple of blocks, 100 people.

> Imo when it comes to that there is a huge difference between men and women, or perhaps more accurately people who are highly skilled in map-reading vs people who aren't.

If the second part is more accurate, why did you even bother mentioning the first? If it's correlation you don't even 100% believe in, leave it out.

Do you honestly think preferences for using maps are based on anything else besides someone's familiarity with maps and the situational context? Gender doesn't matter.

I would love a distance map that includes public transport travel time. For example, if I live close to metro/subway/train and I want to do really big grocery shopping. It would be interesting to see the nearest grocery that includes those I could reach by jumping on the metro and with minimal total walking.

It may be more effective to catch the train to a grocery in a completely different part of town than to walk 30 minutes to the one in your own neighborhood.

Applied to the maps in the article, this could end up introducing animation to the chart. If your local light rail arrives every 30 minutes, then your ETA to arrive at various different grocery stores is gradually changing, drawing nearer to the center, and climbs up a steep (half hour) cliff when you aren't close enough to the station to catch the train.

You could even colour the destinations by level of urgency - blue for destinations where you can casually stroll to the station, or red for ones where you really need to leave right away to catch the train.

Not quite, but it will show you an area within X minutes of transit from a given location.


I wrote a tool that kinda does that. It shows how far you can travel by different modes of transport, including public transit. It also work with time of day to account for both bus schedules and traffic.


Also check out https://citymapper.com for something close to what you describe.

How is this more useful than an ordered list of search results, exactly? Once you've picked your destination, based on travel time, you still want figure out how to get there.

Well it still maintains some geographic info by keeping the direction. This helps for instance in identifying clusters of places, so user can think: "If I go that way there a N other places nearby too". Also the cardinal directions are still preserved, which help to interface with user's preexisting geographic knowelege.

Well, to some degree, yes. Maybe it's even mostly true. But the fact that point A and B are close to point C by some mode of transportation does not guarantee that they are close to each other. They might be separated by some geographic feature like a river, mountain or large road that doesn't separate them from C. Or the transportation options between A and C and between B and C may be excellent, but horrible between A and B. And so on. You need a normal map, or very good prior knowledge of the geography indeed, to know that.

If you click on A, you will be able to see if it is close to B or not. Or, more generally, clicking on a few points in a cluster on this map should give you an idea of whether you'll be able to travel easily between places once you get there. So I don't think it's as useless as you are making it out to be.

Then again, I fail to see how this is a major improvement over just clicking the first location of interest in an ordered list to generate a new list etc.

My main point is that to me, you're either interested in going to the closest location from where you are, and you'd probably want a brief description of each location to filter out points of interest to you. A list is just as good if not better (since you can quickly glance more information about each place) for that purpose.

Or else you're interested in the geography of the different locations or their exact spatial relationship and then you need a normal map anyway.

Sure, this is a neat geographic data visualization, but I just can't see myself using it in a real world situation.

The system could also split the clusters based on proximity. A simple line between groups of nearby features.

It's computing the real travel distance so false clustering will mostly happen for longer trips where the obstruction is close to the origin.

It lets you quickly see which search results you're walking toward and want to check the details on. You could get the same info from reading a result list, but if this takes less attention it's a good presentation.

Honestly I think a standard map with the times for destinations of interest shown in a little caption next to each point would be more useful. That preserves the geographic location information visually.

If you were interested in trip chaining, you could still pick the direction you wanted to head.

The map doesn't guarantee that at all. Two items on the map can appear next to each other and take a very long time to get between -- perhaps they're separated by a freeway that you can't cross, for example.

That is true, though in practice it would mostly be true that destinations sharing similar travel times and similar directional vectors would typically be close to each other. If you didn't already have some general knowledge of the area, you'd probably notice the complication of a freeway when you "zoomed in" to the standard map view.

I feel that should be accounted for in the time it takes to reach that location, and therefore its place on the map.

Imagine a long river with a bridge at the point you are currently located, but no other bridges. Two places across from the river from each other might each be an hour away, but two hours apart from each other because you have to come back to your current location to cross the river. They'd look nearby on this map because they're in close places and similar times to get to.

This is actually an extremely common case with public transportation:

There are two channels of buses going N-S in the city, and both channels meet downtown. From downtown, two locations can be about equally distant in travel time northwards, and nearby in E-W distance compared to their N-S displacement, but they're separated by a freeway and lie on different N-S channels, and so the E-W distance takes as long to commute (by foot or transit) as going downtown and back northwards would.

That's an interesting and commonly occurring case for this kind of map. I wonder if the visualization would be improved by introducing visual connections between points that are nearby, and/or painting barriers between points that are close in the map but far away in reality.

Two locations that are close to a third location need not be close to each other. A and B might be separated by some barrier which does not separate them from C. Maybe a bit of an edge case, but still, not that uncommon.

Well, it's easier to see the distribution of distances. Knowing something is the 3rd closest is less useful that knowing it is actually 30 minutes away.

More so, it is common to want to go to more than one place in an outing. Most of the time when I am searching for the "nearest" X, I'm really searching for the X that is least out of the way between points A and B. This map doesn't help answer that question while an isochrone, or heatmap, or even standard map does.

Isochronic maps are pretty awesome. However, an isochrone-only projection that ignores geography is prone to the same sort of errors that the alternative creates. One simple example that is personal to me -- when I moved from SF to the East Bay, my commute into the city shortened by ~10 minutes because of where I'd been living (out by Ocean Beach) vs where I moved to and the nature of driving and public transit in the SF Bay Area. And yet as far as my friends who lived and worked in SF were concerned, I was now in this mystical place that they didn't really spend any time in or know much about (the perception of Oakland is also contributing here).

It'd be interesting to take travel data and cluster it such that you end up with an isopsychochronic projection. Commute visualizations I've seen end up feeling kind of close.


A bit off topic. What I really want in map software (specifically for finding my way): know that I know my way around certain areas. The beginning of my commute no matter where I go is full of turns every minute or two. It makes listening to audio books impossible because interrupted with "in 100 feet..." Constant.

Just day "go to $MAJORPOINT" then start giving me step by step directions.

Why not just set navigation audio to alerts only (at least in Google maps)

I use Waze on my daily commute not because I don't know the way to work, but because I would like to be routed around traffic as well as possible.

Setting audio to alerts works when a traffic situation develops while I am driving and the optimal route changes on the fly (generating an alert). But, if there is a pre-existing situation when I start that's changing the route in a couple of places from the "normal" route I get 80%of the time, alerts will only notify me of it about it five seconds after I miss the unusual exit, when it starts finding a new route.

Of course the simple fix is to get a phone mount and just look at the route whenever you want - but then you're leaving the screen on constantly, or unlocking it at arm's reach while driving.

GPS should have an option to be silent until I deviate from the route. Or be silent if I frequently travel this road (for example at least twice this month)

I wonder how it would look if you directly distorted the map by travel time.

This. I was hoping for some weird pictures of distorted maps.

Here you go. The prior art you were looking for: http://www.spiekermann-wegener.com/mod/time/time_e.htm

Another one, for the London Underground: http://www.cityam.com/234508/this-alternative-tube-map-shows... The map itself https://petertrotman.com/special/london-underground-travel-t... is having certificate issues atm.

It would be interesting to reproject a map by mutual travel time using isomap. I suspect error per point would be very high, but still interesting.

For what it's worth, I think it would be computationally quite hard. You would have to pick a set of points and maybe isomap them from three dimensions (x, y, and time) to two, then find a visually acceptable cage transformation using those points as anchors. You'd have to do this for each query.

The Isochrones [0] mentioned in the article include basically all the necessary information. I guess a capable GPU-shader programmer could easily render the distortion in real time. (Hint Hint Hacker News for a cool weekend project)

[0] https://www.mapbox.com/bites/00156/#10/51.6840/-0.1480

The problem isn't in getting the data for the transformation but to figure out which transformation to use. It's not possible to do in the general case, imagine e.g. an infinitely quick circle line. Where do you put the part of the map that's inside the circle?

I think as far as figuring out the transformation to use on the a generic map I would:

0) ignore stuff like "infinitely quick" since that isn't realistic for what we are doing :-)

1) For the map I am displaying, pick a handful of points of interest to hse as controls, as well as my current location.

2) Use existing data we already have for stuff like direction routing to get travel times between all the pairs in our points of interest.

3) Draw a weighted graph, where each vertex is one of our points of interest and each edge is weighted by travel time. The initial position of each point should be it's geographic position, but we can then use an existing graph layout algorithm that uses an energy-based method (e.g. pretend the edges are springs) to deform the graph. This way each point will end up with its distance being proportional to travel time.

4) Using initial points as our input control points, and their location in the graph as output cobtrol points, use any number of image warping algorithms put there to calculate our warp / morph / deformation field.

5) Apply to initial map image.

I don't know how well it would work in practice but seems like a reasonable first stab at it! :-)

EDIT: Apologies for typo, fat fingers on mobile!

There's no reason your distance graph should correspond to any continuous mapping of the plane. Two distances constrain a third point to one of two spots. Add a third distance and unless you get lucky, there will be no valid corresponding point in the codomain.

That is absolutely true, and I fully admit that there isn't going to be a perfect way to do this unless you are very lucky. I'm only curious if you could use a method like this to make maps like shown above at http://www.spiekermann-wegener.com/mod/time/time_e.htm where it's approximately correct in a somewhat useful way.

My gut says it's probably more realistic to do this for large scale maps (say between major cities, 100s of miles, where distance is pretty proportional to travel time). Once you get down to the city / street level, yeah it probably gets real dicey with high variation in travel speeds depending on the particular road and how routes are laid out, and you just aren't going to get pretty triangles fitting together nicely :-P.

In any case its a fun problem to think about!

Good point.

An infinitely quick circle would reduce to a point. Morphing a 2D map in 3D, I would imagine the inside of the circle like a balloon with the circle as the opening. Reducing that to 2D seems impossible without breaking it somehow.

I guess the problem is worth at least a paper, if not a dissertation. Maybe there is some esoteric math paper in topology which already solved that? Or has proven it impossible?

> (Hint Hint Hacker News for a cool weekend project)

I would love an HN/GoFundMe or Patreon mashup, where people could take on cool hacks in a thread that readers are willing to support.

I have zero free time at this point in my life, but would be willing to throw some money at folks who do have free time and skills.

If you are serious you could include some contact details in your profile and a statement for the kind of projects you're interested in funding.

That looks pretty good! It seems like the transformation could be done reasonably quickly, maybe with a two-component texture (not sure how efficient texture sampling in vertex shaders is), in the vertex shader(s) in that Mapbox GL instance right after the basic projection. I might give this a go. It might get a bit weird around the edges though, gotta make sure to have a margin of additional geometry.

> not sure how efficient texture sampling in vertex shaders is

On a modern GPU, it's basically just as efficient as in pixel shaders, with two caveats:

1. If you want mip-mapping, you have to do LOD calculations yourself, which is likely a bit slower. (Not an issue in what you have in mind.)

2. There are questions around the locality of your memory accesses. As long as you lay out your vertices more or less along a space-filling curve (which is a good idea for grids anyway, due to vertex reuse) you should be mostly fine. Obviously the details will vary depending on the exact architecture.

I suspect it would be relatively straightforward. Treat each datapoint as origin of a voronoi cell, in both realspace and travel-timespace. This would give you appropriate cage boundaries on both maps, and the transformation between them should be easy.

Alternative would be to keep the standard geographic map, but have clear points on all possible destinations X minutes away - ideally with a slider, watching the "X minutes" points slide around. Actually pretty easy, given each road segment knowing expected speed, and "X+1" just extending into untraveled areas.

There are many interactive isochrone maps with sliders - one such example is [1]. Other isochrone maps listed here [2] may also have time sliders.

[1]: http://property.mapumental.com

[2]: https://wiki.openstreetmap.org/wiki/Isochrone#Examples

They're all public transit. I'm looking for general roads, re: "I'm here, where can I drive to in 35 minutes?"

Mapbox actually has this! Peter, the author, shared our github plugin to generate isochrones in your browser. https://blog.mapbox.com/add-isochrones-to-your-next-applicat...

The demo of that is staggeringly awesome. Thank you.

See Cartograms.

Given the non-Euclidean nature of travel time relationships, I suspect this is physically impossible in the general case.

hmm, the triangle inequality becomes always satisfied with equality.

The location of the isochrones themselves are a function of time, depending on current traffic levels, when the next bus is scheduled to arrive, etc. Hence, this map can't be static. To really be accurate, it needs to collect that data and auto-refresh itself in short intervals.

I love this idea, and also its acknowledgement of prior time maps for rail and other psychogeographic forebears. Its ability to put in relevant data in rational time-based space stops some of those issues that make us take a longer or particular direction because of habit, fear, or misunderstanding of the timespace about us. Nonetheless as a map-lover, I'd love to see how more contextual information could be added for serendipitous and geographical observation.

This is a pretty neat idea, and I could see myself using this in day to day life.

It's nice to see real thought, study and execution into new ways of portraying things that have the possibility of becoming stale. While maps and their functionalities are very much "still in development" with many developers adding new features to them... most of these "new features" don't try to rethink how we see and use them. They just extend the feature set instead of stopping and trying to re-think what a map is and what it is supposed to do.

You don't think there are thousands of people working on exactly this stuff already?! There is deep research into this in academia and the private sector which has been going on for decades :|

Seems like the rate limit of api.foursquare.com has been exceeded.

We're working on it! Check back soon

This is a cool idea, but what about combining it with public transit? In my city, the bus and light rail lines affect my decision-making in all kinds of weird ways. For example:

- Going a few miles east (on the light rail line) is much, much faster than the same distance plus a mile north or south.

- Some places on the inner east side of the river take me longer to get to than places further out that are on a bus line.

- Going to the northwest part downtown takes me longer than going to the north part, even though they're both the same distance from home, because the transit lines run in an ⅂ shape.

This is both clever and useful!

Is it possible to present a resized version of the route to each path underneath each target? (or perhaps show that on hover)

I understand that this would mean having overlapping map snippets of different sizes (with different centres), but some visual representation of the route to take could be nice.

Currently, the UX of having to click each target to see the path reduces the usability (having to go back and forth between the suggestions is tedious).

This is absolutely amazing. If I could use this with a more intelligent search (pub / bar return different things, for instance - whereas I want to search for "places I can get a beer"), this would be fantastic.

Agree. Show me a time map for nearby draft beers with Beer Advocate or Ratebeer scores and I would use this all the time. Bonus points to restrict to certain styles like IPA, lagers, etc. Untappd could actually do this if they wanted.

Really interesting that the "time distance" is more or less linear with walking/biking, but in a car it has a non linear relationship: For further places you take a highway, which requires some extra distance but adds a significant speed boost. Having the dots shift in position when changing modes of transportation was really insightful.

As a user, I would find an isochronic map much more useful than the weird radial design they want to provide. To provide the level of precision that the radial map does without destroying our eyes with colors, they could substitute a color gradient with some sort of border around "reference times" such as 5 minutes.

The author thinks that the time-only maps address the root concern, which is "how fast can I get somewhere." But that's not entirely true: there are areas where I live that I would rather go to than others. If I search for sushi and I see one place in a crime-ridden neighborhood, a second place in the middle of nowhere, and a third place in the "trendy" section of my city where most of the rest of the food is good, I'm going to the third place if they're all the same distance (and probably even if the third place is farther than the first two, to an extent).

Just a cool thing to notice:

> I'm going to the third place if they're all the same distance (and probably even if the third place is farther than the first two, to an extent).

By distance, you probably meant time to get there.

It’s a really cool visual, but not too practical for points of interest searching on websites with more than a few points, although good if density is low and travel time area is small. Take a look at TravelTime platform that can do 1000s of points in milliseconds - here’s an example using the TravelTime API for the same location and you can drag the marker about and it quickly recalculates points of interest or expand it out up to 90 mins journey time. https://app.traveltimeplatform.com/#/search/0_lng=-122.34929...

I like it and this is cool to see. I have a Certificate in GIS and did some reading at one time about the inherent challenges involved in dealing with time in data visualization. This seems to be a fairly elegant solution.

In city centers with a lot of walking traffic, you may see maps overlaid with progressively larger circles, to estimate travel time based on simple physical distance. But this assumes that people move like crows fly: that there’s a straight-line road for anywhere we want to go, through concrete walls and over lakes, without traffic ever to slow us down. In an urban setting, none of these are practical assumptions to make.

That isn't limited to urban settings. They are not practical assumptions to make in any setting.

Its cool, and I can see the usefulness. After I used it for 5 mins I started thinking "hey I really could care less which direction I need to travel for lunch anyways", so its doing its stated goal there.

My only issue is that they define it as a "map". Its, well, its not. Its a useful tool, but a map tells you how to go there, and this is not that (until you click on something, so that second piece is a map fine). I can concede its a map in the sense that multiple places plotted are still direction-ally related to each other, but that's counter to going ahead and throwing out the map-streets in the first place.

As a user, I would prefer two options: • an isochrone preserving relevant geometry geography and transit • a relative time ordering like this, but with the X and Y dimensions subject to change based on my current interests.

I.e. I appreciate radius from center as a very useful representation of travel time.

But I would liberate X and Y to be things such as rating and cost (to give two likely examples).

Once you distort space so you might as well go all-in (in this view) and let it pack in two more dimensions.

The resulting clusterings would be very interesting and useful I imagine.

Pretty neat. I frequently use the example of Yelp's list and map views as an example of how maps aren't always better, even as they are more appealing compared to a text list. But I frequently use the list view because I can sort by distance, while still seeing the other important info (such as star rating, cost, food type).

But distance isn't the only important geospatial factor. Frequently I want to find a place to eat/drink that's on the way to another destination (such as a movie theater). This kind of chrono map would be more useful in a new city in which I don't know that a place 0.2 mi away to the west involves crossing an interstate. In a setting I'm familiar with, it's probably not particularly useful on mobile (given the limited dimensions for showing points and text labels), but could be great on print displays. It'd allow designers to show geospatial/time info without also having to render a full map.

On the topic of Yelp and other listing services, maybe some refinements could be made to make lists more geospatially useful. No reason why the list view has to show just distance, rather than time traveled. Or to include a filter option for direction, so that I can just see things west or south of me. It's pretty frustrating sometimes having to switch back and forth between list and map.

I vaguely built something similar for Sydney, but in showing how good/bad public transport is than driving (hint: it's way worse to catch PT): http://www.publictransport-or-drive.com/

It pretty much makes a isochrone maps all over the city, and gets google public transport and driving times and creates a ratio. I've started to work on a better version 2, but so far not much work.

I love this kind of thinking.

I've always wondered even further about this - how you take this and extend it to 3 dimensions + time. In terms of maps, that would also help you with elevation or other obstacles that might slow you down from a straight line path.

Certainly, with the processing power and capacity today, we have the capability of knowing not only the two dimensional direction and the time it takes, but even the three dimensional position plus time.

I like to think of this crazy idea like a 3-D video recorder (maybe)... something that records positions of all objects in the specified space in slices of time, and can reconstruct any such slice and analyze the relative position of objects in space over time to each other.

I am not sure how such a technology would be made... capturing all the positions of everything in slices of time. I think we can do it with 3-D simulations, but not sure how we could record such data for the real world without modeling it in the virtual.

Still, this is such a cool direction and I for one like seeing people experimenting with something that we take for granted so easily, the map. I feel like everything that is amazing about time and space is somehow embodied by maps - astronomy, time, geography, relativity, etc.

I actually think this is a step too far, conceptually. The isochrone map actually maps better to how I think about travel, and I would find it much more useful.

I had this idea 15 years ago, although I was thinking you could manipulate the visual distance on the map to make it look physically closer, kind of like a topological map. It would take the current traffic, etc to take into account how close things were in time vs distance.

But I was never smart enough to implement it. This goes a bit along the way but hopefully someone comes along and implements that, I think I would find it very useful.

Truly an impressive concept, but I didn't find it to be particularly accurate in Los Angeles. I searched for Mexican food near me and nearly all it could find were Chipotle locations. While I like Chipotle, this isn't quite ready for primetime. Not sure where they're pulling the restaurant data from, but it definitely isn't Google Maps, nor Yelp.

According to the post they fetch from Foursquare API.

This is going to be fantastic for upper Manhattan. Google Maps / Yelp don't understand that going north-south in Manhattan is so much easier than going east/west. A place can be 10x further away in miles, but still be easier and faster to get to.

The idea has something, but I'd hesitate to call something that completely changes depending on on when, where and by whom it is viewed a map at all.

This is a nice tool to answer the descision-making question "where can I find a good restaurant to get to in reasonable proximity?" that the article talked about - but I'm worried about the undertones in it that were equating it to an actual map.

I'm not sure if that's their idea but if they are thinking about using this to replace geographical maps, they should stop that thought quickly - there is an awful lot of information that a geographical map gives you that this doesn't.

This is good idea but could be done differently. One major issue is that time is not only the optimization criteria. For example, if there are two places both 30 minutes away but one requires me to take tons of turns through narrow streets while other is straight forward highway driving then I would chose the later. Hack I would later even if cost was 25% more. Others may have some other criteria, for example, eating near river shore instead of in dirty back alley.

The bottom line is that you can't just throwaway physical maps. One way to marry your idea in physical may might be to color code places according to how far they are.

It's also kind of interesting that you can draw some pretty strong inferences about neighborhoods once all the geographic cruft is wiped away. For example, from where I'm sitting in Midtown, Manhattan's east-side retail development bias is clearly revealed by a search for "Starbucks:"


If you center on the Central West End in St. Louis, you can clearly see that development has mostly happened in the western suburbs:


"By removing literal geography, we now have a map that more closely reflects the way we think about our environment: a cluster of restaurants “five minutes that way” versus “ten minutes the other.”

Oh my.... They just invented the 'list'. Or better yet a list that drives map interactions....oh my and an ordered list too! I could swear I did that like 10 years ago on google maps, but I guess it must have just been a dream.

Seriously, adding a fancy radius dial overlay doesn't really improve much over a plain old ordered list.

Of course, distance on this map corresponds to travel time only so long as one of the points is the center; for a multi-leg trip, it still essentially requires manual inquiry and comparison.

It'd be cool to see a similar map at relativistic scales that shows the relationship between travel time for different speeds and the elapsed time at the origin and destination.

Good for initial decision making, but worthless for actually helping someone get somewhere, which is the function of a map. Perhaps this needs a different name.

Not too bad, but the search needs to be less literal.

When I search for "sandwich", my neighborhood Subway should show up, even though the word doesn't appear in the name.

When I search for "convenience" or "store", my neighborhood convenience store should show up, even though those words do not appear in the name.

But I did discover a Whole Foods location that is even closer to my house than the three others in town that I knew of. Cool!

this isn't a question of being less literal, it's a question of building a search taxonomy and synonym database and tuning it for relevance, in this case, in the restaurants vertical.

this is something a lot of people don't realize about search engines i.e. yelp, angie's, etc. - they are tuned to fit the humans to the data, not vice versa.

It kind of reminds me of what Uber decided to do in their UberEats app, which is organize restaurants by how long delivery will take and not say anything about how many miles away the restaurant is or what its address is. You can't sort by distance or display a map. So it ends up being really annoying if you would rather deal with nearby restaurants you end up doing a lot of flipping back and forth from google.

I've met with people from the Berlin mapbox team and feel they are a nice bunch.

However this map idea also reflects my core impression. Really smart people that provide constant high quality content (just look at the blog itself, how it's designed, and the other posts), but not really a disruptive spirit.

Sie sind nicht der Elefant im Porzelanladen, you could say. That is their strength and their weakness.

"You are not the elephant in a cupboard full of porcelain", that means, by the way.

In the US we might say "you are not a bull in a china shop," which is in the same spirit.

Why not just have a list sorted by distance or that same travel time? The concentric circles seem to make it more difficult to browse.

For an example, go to https://groups.do , create an account (can be fake) and then click New Group, select some Dining activity and see the restaurants pop up sorted by distance. Done.

Personally this is not how I think about this kind of concept divorced from the geography. But am glad there are tools to help express how I want to use GIS info! https://boundlessgeo.com/ is a highly customizable open source suite for GIS data as well.

Refreshed my memory about when I was calling this "mobility circles" back in 2011. http://blog.rodolphoarruda.pro.br/2011/05/os-tres-circulos-d... (portuguese)

A pet project I've wanted to do for ages is to hack up a very high-detail (factoring in every road/footpath) isochrone map centred around my home, using openstreetmap data and render the result for a printshop at e.g. 600dpi to create a high quality map/poster

Any suggestions for the best (open) software to achieve this?

Click on the live link here https://blog.mapbox.com/add-isochrones-to-your-next-applicat... for an example. Use the extension linked in the article to create a high-resolution screenshot from a Mapbox GL Map canvas object. https://printmaps.mpetroff.net/

not exactly what you're looking for but maybe it gives you some ideas / tools https://www.mapnificent.net/london/#12/51.5005/-0.1283/900/5...

Mapbox also does isochrones: https://blog.mapbox.com/add-isochrones-to-your-next-applicat...

disclosure: I work for Mapbox (on geocoding, not visual maps)

I like that there're companies like Mapbox and CityMapper challenging Google Maps and Apple Maps.

But giving a blank slate to a user and having them input a text query when they open the App might not be the best idea. In my head I remember the places around me using landmarks; the blank screen at the start makes me impatient.

I like your idea but as vizs go it's a bit misguided. Something 4 rings out in one direction and 5 rings out in another would be hard to compare at a glance. Instead you could make a directionless viz that's basically a bar graph that's just as useful if your primary concern is distance in minutes.

I wonder if it would be readable to overlay the distance map with the street map, and connect the two with a line.

Or connect the paths along sidewalks etc that will get you there in the claimed time.

Something similar, but simpler: https://www.freemaptools.com/how-far-can-i-travel.htm

Very useful in constraining a search area based on how far you're willing to commute when looking for a home.

If you only care about time then direction is irrelevant. In which case just listing the restaurants in order of travel time would be better.

What would be cool is instead of time you have a score that takes into account time, cost (do I need an uber or will a bus do?) and variance (traffic delay probability)

I'd like to see a version of this where you can input a list of errands - work, groceries, daycare, gas, gym - and it distills all the travel into a single dot. You pick the dot with the least amount of time and it gives you a list of locations in the order you should travel.

I've had a similar concept rattling around in my head for a while. Rather than basing the time on travel distance from a point, you can base it on travel distance from a route. Then results can be ranked by "on my home commute, how far out of my way is this place?"

I am finding it useful in realizing that some restaurants, stores are actually closer than assumed. This visual removing roads, hills is useful. It would be helpful to be able to toggle a normal map with all points, not just the selected on.

City Block distance metric aka Taxicab geometry applies here.

[0] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Taxicab_geometry

I worked in a hostel for years and Europeans often noted how funny it was that people from the states referred to distance in regards to time

ie, an 8 hour drive, or 20 minute walk

It was always fun to sit around and speculate as to why

I do that here in New Zealand for driving. It doesn't really mean much to say that a town is 200 km away.

That 200 km could take anywhere from 2 hours to 3.5 hours to drive to, depending on the road and terrain. The distance isn't actually very relevant.

The tourist guides here specifically mention this, that don't plan your travel by distance, because 100 km in one place is not 100 km in another. In the old road maps, they'd have a travel time matrix, rather than distance (like this [0] except with times)

[0] https://s3-us-west-2.amazonaws.com/liftweightpushcode/10f05e...

Very neat idea!

I can't seem to run a search in my location in NY. "Find Me" changes the address but the results are stuck in Seattle. I can't seem to change the query term either.

My searches for food in Bellevue, WA found a Thai restaurant that closed 6 years ago (Tewada Thai), and a Mexican restaurant that left 2 years ago (Tres Hermanos).

I noticed that for "lunch", "sandwich", "food" in Toronto as well. Strange, since the demo claims to use the Foursquare API, but the same queries in the app offer better/more relevant results.

The bugs are about time too.

I have been waiting for something like this for housing searches. Suprisingly hard to search within a specific commute time rather than search by neighborhood

This is a really cool idea but the live demo won't load for me when I put an address in. Anyone else getting this to work on Chrome (61.0)/Linux?

I want to see such a map around every apartment for rent.

I haven't heard much about Mapbox before. Where do they get their data? Do they buy it from another company or actually do the mapping themselves?

This is really cool! I wonder what the other boundaries on the map (road, neighborhood, city, etc.) would look like when projected onto the time view.

It would be cool if the directionality of the unit circle (northing/heading) changed based upon gyro orientation, when viewed on a mobile device.

I think this is wonderful. I remember when people said talking about how far something is in time units was a "Pittsburgh thing" ;)

I'm getting 403 responses, hence the map isn't loading for me, anyone have some interesting screenshots of it working?

For food, I'd like a map that allows me to minimize the sum of time spent traveling and time spent waiting in line.

It looks like a step backward from it's "prior art" that was installed in Oakland.

Interesting concept. I like the overlay idea, but I think simply having that as a standalone map would not be useful in other areas where distance as the crow flies ≠ time traveled. Areas with large bodies of water (like adjacent peninsulas), mountainous areas or areas with strange road infrastructure (Some parts of Virginia).

Nonetheless, an interesting concept!

The distance changes as you change your mode of transportation - so barriers would be taken into account for the time traveled.

My impression is that the distance is not "as a crow flies". It's distance given the mode of travel you specify.

Removing the geography seems great until you are trying to cross rivers or highways.

Ostensibly, these kind of maps imply the time-cost of those obstacles more accurately than a standard map in which as-the-bird-flies distances are more explicitly shown.

It does account for it, but only for one starting point. So the spatial relationship of the objects to each other mean less than the relationship of the objects independently with the starting position (the centre). A user would have to do it multiple times manually, or specify some kind of travelling salesman route to figure out the best way. I think our brains do this more efficiently and quickly but this would really be worth looking into with this new map.

This map isn't for navigating to the place in mind; it's more of a discovery tool based on travel time. Pick a place and then you get a standard geography based map.

This is fantastic - both in usefulness and in design. Very well done!

I've never seen an isochronic map before. Those are legit!

Searching for pho gets you photography... kind of annoying :)

not sure whether this gives much advantage over just listing the results in order of travel time? It gives an indication of direction, but is that really useful?

Interesting to see Melbourne Australia in some of the maps.

Clever title!

In .. 7 .. minutes you wi reach your deatination .. in shady alley behind the dumpster. But hey, it's close!

Cool idea though.

I'm surprised nobody's mentioned Chris Lightfoot's beautiful interactive time travel maps that he did with MySociety and Stamen Design:


MySociety Travel Time Maps

Interactive maps of travel time and housing prices in London

MySociety, an NGO which builds websites that give people simple, tangible benefits in the civic and community aspects of their lives, came to Stamen with a remit to explore two fascinating datasets: median prices of homes throughout London, and the time it takes to travel from one place to another throughout the city.



Chris Lightfoot (4 August 1978 — 11 February 2007) was an English scientist and political activist. He was the first developer, with Tom Steinberg, at e-democracy charity mySociety.


Sometimes, it’s more useful to know a journey time than it is to know the distance.

That’s why people often refer to ‘an hour’s commute’ rather than ‘40 miles’.

Mapumental is a beautiful tool to show public transport travel times, from or to a chosen postcode, on a timebanded map. These can be embedded in websites, apps or online tools, or used for internal research purposes.

Transit-time maps, also known as isochrone maps, are not a new idea: there are examples dating back hundreds of years. But the online technologies behind Mapumental are new – and have unleashed a great many possibilities for all kinds of users.


Mapumental developed the project (site currently down for maintainance):


Stamen Design has done lots of really cool stuff with maps:


+1 for title

I think this would be far more useful as an overlay over a physical map than just entirely replacing one.

By that, I mean.. think of isobars.

A de-cluttered version of this would work great in a car/auto context. "Show me nearby supermarkets"

Come on, this is just a simple idea with lots of prior art. Nothing to brag about (as the title does) or to build a business around, as anybody can make such maps.

As someone who has never seen this kind of map applied to a relevant use case, I think there's a difference between having designed map like this vs building a tool for everyone to benefit from a map like this.

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