Meta Refresh 2016

The web in your pocket

The Parallel World of Map Making


Sajjad Anwar


In a parallel world, map makers and cartographers have been discovering, learning, and relearning ways to make the most beautiful maps. While web developers are debating about the existence of CSS, and abstractions of the web at large, cartographers have been solving the art of making digital maps at the intersection of complex data, simple design, and uncompromised aesthetics.


I’d like to talk about what’s at the core of most modern web maps, what has changed over the last few years to make this possible, and the challenges of designing web maps. The central element to rendering fast web maps is Mapnik - the open source libary that combines pixel-perfect image output with lightning-fast cartographic algorithms. Beyond the fact that Mapnik implements the Painters Algorithm, it abstracts styling elegantly through XML Stylesheets. Yes, XML. That’s where we begin. How do represent the world, it’s associated geometries and colors in a stylesheet? This lead to the rise of a series on new design languages - like Cascadenik, MapCSS, CartoCSS - all inspired by CSS.

In my talk, I’ll cover the brief history of web maps, the languages and one of the most exciting open source things we are working on at Mapbox called the Mapbox GL Style Specification.

Speaker bio

Sajjad Anwar is a developer at Mapbox where he focuses on buidling data processing and productivity tools. He has been working closely with OpenStreetMap data and technology for over 7 years. As a strong advocate of open data, he is actively involved in its movement in India with initiatives like DataMeet and GeoBLR.