GEMMA Early Beta

Finally we are nearing the end of the project (ok technically at the end but its both complex and exciting so we might squeeze in a few more days yet) we would like to introduce the world to GEMMA, the Geospatial Engine for Mass Mapping Applications. 

Gemma Map shown 3 layers of data
GEMMA was designed to allow anyone to make complex map mashups with a minimum of geographic knowledge. So easy in fact that even the most modest of users will be able to quickly collect data and visualise it in a few clicks, no worrisome logins, data downloads or nasty terms and conditions . Hopefully, GEMMA will get everyone excited about making their own maps, from a map of all their local Tesco locations through to a map of the number of cars that pass by their house. Building maps online takes time and often basic programming knowledge. GEMMA solves this problem by integrating many of the popular CASA products, along with some new features and iPhone app, combined into one easy to use platform allowing you make an interactive map that can be shared with the world.
Gemma Map shown 3 layers of data
So what are GEMMA’s main features?
Basically it’s a structured mashing application. A little bit from MapTube, a little bit from Google MyMaps, a little bit of opening up the wealth of data from OpenStreetMap. Add your own measured data with the accompanying iPhone app that is super simple to use – choose what you want to count, start tapping the screen to count, and then upload. Back in the GEMMA website, login and add.
With GEMMA you can stand on street corners and easily measure the demographics of, for example,Boris Bike users, create a shiny PDF of the data, and stick it up on a wall or embed it into your homework. We provide a unqiue shortcode for sharing with the world, or GEMMA will remember it in a list for future access.
Gemma Data Collector showing values 4, 8, 11, 4 and users position
How would you use GEMMA?
If you’re a Geography student who needs to prepare some maps for your course work on local population groups, you may need to collect counts of people for various locations around your local town and  compare that with the Output Area Classifications (OAC). What are you going to do? In the past you would have had to go and find an OAC map of your area and annotate it with the various bits of data you collect but you have left it to the last minute, again, and don’t know what to do! That’s where GEMMA steps in. Take a look at the video to see how easy using GEMMA actually is:
You can view the PDF created in the video here and take a preview look at  GEMMA.
The iPhone Application will be available to download from the iTunes App Store and we will let you know in this blog when it’s available. The GEMMA website is still in the BETA stages and we are just cleaning up the interface to make it easier for you to use as soon as it’s ready you’ll be able to use the web app from this link.
So who built GEMMA?
A few of the people at CASA, namely  Steven GrayOllie O’Brien our Principle Investigator Andy Hudson-Smith and finally Richard Milton who built some of the backend features that GEMMA requires to work so a big thank you to him. We will try and get a team photo together soon as we can.
As Ollie notes he has already blogged about the different APIs and libraries used. With any significant web project these days, good use of the rich tapestry of libraries out there is invaluable. Why write a polished Javascript-based UI from scratch when there is the powerful, beautiful and simple JQuery UI? Why spend ages creating sortable, resizable tables when JQuery Datatables will do that for you? Mapnik 2 has a whole host of new features, let’s use them. Let’s use authentication APIs from Twitter and Google rather than writing our own – the last thing people on the web need is yet another logon and password to remember (although, as Steve who did this part can attest, it’s not that easy – or smooth – for developers to take incorporate third-party identity management.) Let’s use custom-styled maps in the Google Maps API, and let Google take the strain of rendering them (it’s dead easy to create a grayscale layer for the Google Maps API).
If you sat Ollie down and asked the work he was most personally proud of, the answer would be GEMMAs PDF creation. During the project he has blogged about a couple of fairly cool things he has been able to do with WMS and SVG inputs for Mapnik and Cairo respectively, which looked to be a challenge. Steve on the other hand has been central to the GEMMA iPhone app, an app that allows anyone or any group to count anything, anywhere and have it mapped in realtime. From pedestrians and traffic through to flora and fauna, if it can be counted it can be mapped. The creation of a whole new mapping service with surveys, open data, custom markers and a bespoke iPhone app within a single interface has honestly been a challenge and one that has led to intense project meetings in the GEMMA lab.
Through it all we feel we have honestly come up with something unique, we hope you are as excited about GEMMA as we are and it doesn’t stop here. GEMMA has so far been a short, focused project. It’s tough to stop once you’ve started going – there’s so more we could do. We have more features to add to GEMMA in the pipeline so if you are interested in or have a feature that you would like to see in GEMMA then do get in contact.
Good news is that the developer team (Steve, Ollie and Richard) won ‘developers of 2011’ at the recent JISC GeoAwards. Personally I am very proud of the team, papers and further development coming soon…
Thanks as ever go to JISCGeo for allowing the creation of a Geographic Engine for Mass Mapping Applications.