Timeline is a widget that you can use on the web to visualize temporal data. It does not take too much room on the page, but scrolls back and forth. Users can also click on points on the timeline to show a popup with more information. This is free, open-source software with the full source code available here. Although this requires some knowledge of web development, there is a Getting Started guide on their wiki here, that will walk you through the process. Learn more about this project and play with the interactive timeline on the Timeline website.

Screen Shot 2015-02-14 at 6.42.22 PM


In addition to Mapbox StudioMapbox also offers TileMill for building interactive maps. They provide a crash course to get you up and running with the documentation used. If you have familiarity with CSS, this will be a natural tool for you, as you look at an editor and at the graphic representation of your map at the same time. This tool was built on a suite of open source libraries including Mapnik, node.js, backbone.js, express and CodeMirror, and you can look at the source code on GitHub.

Screen Shot 2015-01-31 at 5.52.48 PM


OpenStreetMap is an open-source alternative to Google Maps, providing similar information culled from the user base. It has a few layer options and is aesthetically designed. Working with OpenStreetMap to create your own maps requires some more technical abilities than Google Maps does, but you can read up about contributing to the project, and how to work with the available GIS data on OpenStreetMap Wiki. Mapbox provides a short tutorial for using OpenStreetMap, and you can also use PostGIS to work with OpenStreetMap’s available databases.

Screen Shot 2015-01-31 at 5.32.31 PM

Paper Maps to Digital Maps Tutorial

This tutorial by Mauricio Giraldo Arteaga (the creator of Scroll NYC) provides step-by-step instructions for refactoring paper maps as digital maps. The tutorial utilizes several mapping tools and includes clear directions with animated GIF screen captures to guide you through the process.

In the end, you will create a map like this (screenshot below).


Read the full tutorial blog post here.

Mapping Gothic France

The Mapping Gothic France site is an Art History project spearheaded by professors at Columbia University and Vassar College. It is a highly interactive site that combines various modes of approaching the topic of Gothic French architecture through space, time, and narrative.

Their About page describes their goals:

Our intention has been not just to develop a more appropriate way of representing the spaciousness of individual monuments, but to provide the user of the site with new ways to understand the relationship of hundreds of buildings conventionally described as “Gothic” — in terms of sameness and difference, found in the forms of multiple buildings within a defined period of time and space that corresponds to the advent of the nation of France.

As an open-source project with their source-code available via GitHub, Mapping Gothic France can be a great inspiration for those of us working with maps across various dimensions.



Gnuplot, a portable command-line driven graphing utility, for interactive and web-based data plotting, can be integrated with raster data (from Natural Earth, for example) to create maps.

Gnuplot’s source code is copyrighted but freely distributed. They provide links to tutorials, and the Gnuplotting blog has a few informational blogs about working with maps.


Download Gnuplot for free here.


CartoDB is a cloud tool for mapping and visualization on the web. Users can use the company’s free platform (that is, up to a certain size), or deploy their own instance as the software is open source (check them out on GitHub). This tool is appropriate for users at various technological proficiencies, as there is a web application with interface to create custom maps and visualizations, while advanced users can access an interface to use SQL.

There is a Maps API, SQL API, Import API, and CartoDB.js library.

Screen Shot 2015-01-25 at 2.51.53 PM

Modest Maps

Modest Maps is a small and free library in JavaScript (there are also other implementations) made for designers and developers. Providing key features in a clean and lightweight package, it offers prospects for expansion. It provides a core set of features in a tight, clean package with plenty of hooks for additional functionality. This is a simple platform for advanced users with a full API.