Occasional posts on subjects including field recording, London history and literature, other websites worth looking at, articles in the press, and news of sound-related events.

27 April 2011

Two easy ways to make a sound map

IF YOU’VE EVER tried wading through the Google Maps API documentation, you might wish you had the programming skills of sound map designers like Udo Noll or Max Stein.

Luckily, there are two off-the-shelf applications which make sound mapping easy for the rest of us who lack the code-warrior gene.

The first one I came across was on Jonathan Prior’s 12 Gates to the City website, which uses Umapper for its sound map. Jonathan seems to be the only person so far to have cottoned on to Umapper’s potential for making sound maps.

Umapper follows the familiar ‘freemium’ (not nice is it?) web business model. The free version has enough functions to make a decent sound map, while the paid-for version works out quite cheaply with the bill for 10,000 page views a month amounting to just $2. That’s a realistic amount of traffic for a hobby website. Umapper must be hoping to make bigger money from corporate and institutional customers.

After you’ve registered with Umapper, you can set about making your sound map. First a title and description for the map have to be entered, then you add the sounds and placemarkers from the edit page, as pictured below.

Umapper screen

Sounds can be uploaded from your computer to the Audio Library, the icon for which I’ve circled in orange on the right of the screenshot. Umapper stores your sound files in the Amazon cloud, although once they’re in the cloud, there’s no obvious way to get at them other than by including them on a Umapper sound map.

When a file has finished uploading it joins your Audio Library, and then it’s simply a matter of dragging and plonking it onto the map. After you’ve saved the map, you can cut and paste its Flash code onto your website, as below with some unexpected sounds from the Faroe Islands:

The drawback is the pop-up only includes Umapper’s audio player and the filename as a title. Although there are options for including text and pictures in the pop-up, they won’t co-exist with the player. On the plus side, Umapper offers a range of different map types, such as the visually pleasing Mapnik layer from OpenStreetMap, and the more familiar aerial photographic views.

It also makes a simple collaborative sound map possible through the Wiki setting, meaning that anyone can upload a sound to your map. If you prefer, you can allow uploads but limit them to those contributors entering approved email addresses. Umapper allows you to build a list of such addresses and add to it as time goes by.

The second mapping application is Map Maker and it’s provided free of charge by web designer Richard Stephenson. Map Maker is very simple and straightforward to use. Unlike Umapper, it doesn’t have any custom features for including sound files. But the pop-up content box will happily accept Flash embed code for audio players, such as that used by Soundcloud:

Donkey Magic Map Maker

After you’ve saved the map, you can cut and paste a small line of code consisting of no more than an iframe URL and its width and height. Here’s the finished result:

Since it looks like any map made in this way will use up some of his site’s bandwidth, it’s maybe a nice idea to drop Richard a thank-you note if you’re going to make prominent use of Map Maker.

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