Friday, October 9, 2009

Charting and Mapping with amCharts and amMaps

With a wide range of ways to create online maps, many more news organizations are using these tools to create interesting and unique ones. Some media companies are consistently producing interactive maps that are both visually engaging and educational.

Besides Google Maps, there are a number of robust mapping and charting solutions available to journalists. Many of them are free or have a low-cost, and more importantly, they’re easy-to-use. Two popular choices are amMaps and amCharts.

amMaps and amCharts are two popular choices from a small company based in Vilnius, Lithuania. amMap is a tool for creating interactive Flash maps while amChart creates interactive Flash charts.

Both have a free and paid version. The only limitation of the free versions are that a small link will be placed on the maps and charts. amMap and amCharts are Flash, but the Macromedia Flash program is not required, and neither is a knowledge of flash. Data is entered in a separate text file; information can be drawn from existing files such as XML and CSV, both of which can be exported from spreadsheets.

amCharts is capable of generating many types of charts including Stock, Column & Bar, Line & Area, Pie & Donut, Scatter & Bubble and Radar & Polar while amMap comes with continents (currently two, but more will follow), the world and individual country maps.

amCharts can also read dynamic data generated with PHP, .NET, Java, Ruby on Rails, Perl, ColdFusion, and many other programming languages. It also has an online visual editor in beta. amMaps can utilize photos or illustrations which can be used as layers and backgrounds of maps. amCharts and amMap can even be mashed up together. For example, you can load a separate chart when your users click on a country, and use it to show statistical information.

Here are three excellent examples of amMaps and amMaps in action:

USA Today - Swine Flu Cases and Precaution’s Around the World.

Mozilla - Spread Firefox

Dismal Scientist - Global Recession Status

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