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Simple Mapping Tools

About MapBox & TileMill

MapBox is a browser-based mapping tool. It's great for plotting simple point data, but does not allow for customization beyond color scheme and marker shape. 

TileMill is downloadable version of MapBox, and is significantly more powerful. It has features to CartoDB. However, it has the major advantage of not limiting the  user to a certain number of maps. It also relies more on CSS programming.

       Pro: Beautiful maps, TileMill has many features, only limited by one's CSS ability. 

      Con: MapBox is very limited, TileMill requires CSS for full functionality, even simple features require significant work to       implement. 

Getting Started

If you're just making simple point maps and do not need custimization beyond colors and layout, MapBox will be sufficient for mapping. First, you'll need to create an account. You can do so from the MapBox homepage. Once you've created account, work through the tutorial below to familiarize yourself with MapBox and make your first map. 

If you want a more powerful mapping program, you'll need to download TileMill, MapBox's bigger cousin. Follow this link and download the version for your operating system. However, it is recommended that you start with the MapBox tutorial below, as the two programs have similar interfaces. 



In this tutorial, we'll be creating a map of the Rolling Stones concerts from 1963-1965. 

1. First, download the .csv file with the data from here. It gives the location of the concert in latitude and longitude, the date, the venue, and the city. A sample of the data is shown below. 


2. Sign in to your MapBox account and click Make a Map on the homepage.

3. Select the Data tab and click import. 

4. A pop-up box will ask you to select Import Feature. Under the Title tab, select Info. Under the Description tab, select Date. 

5. Under the Style tab, select a color for your markers. If you'd like, you can change the symbols for the markers under the Symbol tab. Once you're done, click Finish Importing. 

6. You should now have a map that looks similar to this: 

You've made your first map using MapBox! Try clicking some of the points to see the info for each concert. 

You should now be able to make a map in MapBox using any data which has Longitude and Latitude coordinates. If you'd like to make similar maps but with more powerful customization, try TileMill. 

Moving Forward

The above tutorial is about the limit of MapBox's functionality. If you'd like to make more advanced maps (such as heat maps) you'll need to download TileMill following the steps in the Getting Started section. 

Once you've downloaded TileMill, a great place to start is the TileMill crash course on the MapBox website. 

What is .csv?

.csv stands for Comma Separated Values. It is a common file type for many types of data. It is an easy way of a saving a table or spreadsheet. Each value is separated by a symbol, most often a comma or semi-colon. Here is an example of a few lines of csv data:

State, Year, Number

WA, 1999, 50

PA, 1999, 73

NY, 2000, 96

Check out sample data for these tutorials

Map Types

There are many different types of maps. It is important to choose a map type before starting. All have advantages and disadvantages compared to the others. Think carefully about what information you want your map to convey before choosing.

The most common types are:

Chloropleths: regions are colored based on their value. For example, divorce rate by state. 

Pinpoint: simply show the locations of various data points.

Proportional Symbol: a combination of the first two types. Symbols represent locations and the size and/or color of the symbol is based on that locations value. 

For more information, see these links:

How to Use Maps in Data Visualization

Visualization Types