Written by Nathan Cloud on Thursday, 30 Sep 2010.
Maybe you remember me yammering on about other like minded mountain bike websites providing means to share trail data. I would scream things like "local knowledge is the best knowledge", "data feeds and APIs are cool" and "this shit is never gonna get me laid!" I would continue saying that by using each others data, we would only be adding value to each others sites. Creating some sort of network of locally based mountain biking websites.
Why stop there though? What about anybody that simply might want to do some specific mapping on their website? Maybe you have a site focusing on one particular trail? It would be pretty cool if you could supplement your data with data from other places right?
I Call it Data Distribution!
And we do it! For real! Sure, it might be most under-used asset this site has to offer. Maybe my implementation is garbage. Maybe people don't know it exists. Maybe mountain bikers are not really all the tech saavy. Or maybe it is simply just a bad idea. Still... I BELIEVE IN MY VISION.
Crankfire is about mountain biking and working together to build something that benefits everyone. That is why just about every shred of data collected here is available in as many formats, feeds, deliveries, whatever for your use.
Today We Take a Big Step
You know when you look at the maps here you see red trail networks? This is what I am going to talk about!
So, to start, I bet you aren't wondering how this happens at all. Well, I am going to tell you!
As "in a nutshell"-ish as I can make this explanation.... users upload GPS tracks of rides to this website, and over time we get a bunch of them that travel the same trail. Now, due to ineherent inaccuracies with GPS devices, overlaying them all on a map will produce something like this:
Pretty sloppy looking right? So, how do we get from that, to this?
Well, this takes a little human intervention, a little elbow grease, a dash of local knowledge and Topofusion. You see, Topofusion has this badass "network" feature that takes a crapload of GPS tracks and averages them together into what you are looking at above. It's not perfect, but with a little extra TLC, we can get ourselves a single GPX file containing a nice clean trail network. We do this for every trail.
Now, until recently, I was using special software that would take these trail network files and generate Google Map tiles, millions of them, which I would then upload to one of our servers and then jam them into our maps. This was not a great process - it was time consuming, easy to screw up and resource intensive.
Enter Google Fusion Tables
So Google released this Fusion Table service sometime last year. What's that? Well, a bastardization of their explanation would go something like this:
Google Fusion Tables is an experimental system for data management in the cloud with a focus on fusing data management and collaboration: merging multiple data sources, discussion of the data, querying, visualization, and Web publishing
Huh? Basically it is a database that I can jam this trail network data into and then use it to "magically" generate and embed the lovely trail base layer you see on our maps. It not only cuts out that step of me having to create millions of map tiles, but the whole system is setup to share and collaborate with others out on the internet.
What did you do Ray?
Well, Crankfire now has its very own Google Fusion Table containing all of our hand-crafted trail networks. It is a nice, clean, centralized, sweet symphony of technology and sharing. It is out there, for you to use. As in throw this master trail network layer into your very own Google Map, on your website! Of course our data distributions rules do apply, but c'mon, how cool is that?
Interested in giving this trail layer a try on your website? The technical details can be found here.
I am going to say it again using different words!
We have a Google Fusion Table loaded up with all of our trail networks. This database represents a well crafted clean trails layer of all of the GPS track data we have collected over the years. It is even (semi)consistently updated. And you can use it on your own website! How? Go here.
This is Just the Beginning
Now, to give credit where credit is due, the fine folks over at MTBguru more or less spearheaded using Google Fusion Tables with GPS trail data. Which is beautiful thing! Maybe they will hop on the data collaboration bandwagon as well?
Regardless though, beginning? Yup, I am also starting work on documenting Crankfires Data API. It is more or less a RESTful API - it is just finicky and not documented at all! You can already see it in action with our Roll Your Own data feed module - but the API will have more features and filters which will allow you to use the data we amassed here for your own projects.