Expert Review: CartoDB

CartoDB is an extremely straightforward, cloud-based mapping software designed to allow users the opportunity to create various kinds of maps based on virtually any location-based data set they can find. This makes CartoDB the perfect tool to accompany any story related to issues of location, ranging from microcosmic neighborhood issues to large scale global issues. The plethora of customization options also ensures your maps truly illustrate your specific points while simultaneously looking visually appealing and drawing the viewer’s eye to your article.

Getting Started 

In order to use CartoDB, all you have to do is create an account using an active email address. Once this is done and you have logged in, you’re ready to start mapping! The site is extremely easy to navigate, so a verbal explanation of introductory steps is a bit superfluous. With that said, you want to start out your project by first finding the data set (or sets) you want to use in your map. In the case of my final project, I am using two complimentary data sets: closed pothole cases in Boston and pothole call-ins in Boston.

After collecting your data sets, you’ll want to go to your CartoDB dashboard, click “New Table,” and upload your data sets. One awesome quality of CartoDB is how you can upload your files in a multitude of ways, ranging from a website URL, a file on your computer, via Dropbox or Google Drive, etc. No matter how you have your data sets saved, chances are, CartoDB will have a way for you to upload them.

Once your tables are imported (be patient, bigger files can take a while to upload), click on the first one you wish to map. This will take you to a page displaying the data set as a table. On the top of the page, however, there is an option to view the table as a map. Click on this and CartoDB will display your data set as a map.

This creates a basic map, but the site has a lot of editing options. On the righthand side of your map, there should be a collapsed editing menu. Click on this and explore the different ways of making your map express exactly what you want to express. You can display the data as a cluster or intensity map (among other options), you can change the color of the dots representing the data, you can even filter how the data is displayed using the different columns in the originally imported table.

Another personalization aspect is the actual map on which the data is displayed. On the top lefthand side of your map, there should be a drop down menu that says “Base Map.” Click on this and you can browse through a selection of different maps. You even have the option to upload your own background image to display the data on.

Overall Impressions

I really enjoy CartoDB because it is extremely easy to use and understand, but I don’t feel like it compromises the integrity of the data in order to do this. You don’t really need to have any specific skills going into this application, which makes it accessible to almost anyone. I would definitely recommend CartoDB to a friend and I can’t even imagine doing my final data story without this application, seeing as my entire project relates directly to mapping data.

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