In late May, most of the maps on this site (plus those I have produced for Guardian Healthcare Network) switched from beautiful satellite images (below left – a section of my map on male life expectancy) to rather less interesting atlas-style maps (below right). They also gained a big ‘United Kingdom’ label over the Scottish borders, presumably to the chagrin of the SNP. But it turns out this and other labels can be removed – with some work.
I normally use Google Fusion Tables to map data, unless I am mapping roads, in which case Google Maps does the job. So I emailed Google Fusion Tables to ask about the removal of the satellite option, as well as the new ‘United Kingdom’ label on the maps – somewhat unnecessary on a map that only shows the UK.
Two days later, I received a helpful reply from one of the Google Fusion Tables team. The loss of the satellite version was a bug, and would be fixed shortly (and it was). He added that he’d look into the new ‘United Kingdom’ label, and in another email three days later told me this was due to a change in Google’s base maps (outside Fusion Tables’ control) – but that I could customise what appeared through use of the Google Maps API rather than simply getting a link to embed from Google Fusion Tables.
It’s relatively simple to use Google’s static map API to create something customised, as it’s simply a string of HTML with parameters. This allows the production, for example, of a satellite image with no labels:
It’s also fairly straightforward to produce a customised map, such as this one with a black base and parks in light green (this is a Google example, which I’ve simply relocated from New York to London):
The shape of the UK is pretty distinctive, so I am now using this ‘United Kingdom’-free version on the life expectancy post, and a similar one on this site’s home page. Label-free maps definitely look like a good option for future data mapping at this scale.