- 16 Jul 08, 12:55 PM
Today we've launched our interactive map of the Beijing Olympics, showing all the venues, a selection of landmarks, plus blogs and Twitter posts from our journalists in Beijing.
If you haven't already seen it, please do take a look and let me know your thoughts.
I'm a bit of a map geek - old maps, new maps, shipping charts, satellite images, GPS, it's all good (I've just had mild abuse involving "toggles" and "anoraks" lobbed at me in the office, to prove the point) - so it's been great fun to help build a map for BBC Sport.
But for somebody like me, used to wasting the occasional evening messing around with applications like Google's My Maps, creating a map on this level turned out to be a daunting proposition.
Getting a custom map to work on as many browsers and computers as possible, as quickly as possible, for many thousands of users at a time, is not easy.
(I'm aware not everybody will get the full experience with our Beijing map but believe me, we threw the kitchen sink at it to make it as compatible as possible. Apologies to anyone who misses out. I'm also aware it may take some time to load, but then maps of China by necessity err on the large side! We're working on quickening the beast.)
My job has been the easy part - deciding which things to show on the map, what we say about them, which pictures we use and where the links go.
Other poor souls have dealt with the design work and complex development to actually get the map up and running, doing all the different things we need it to do. Andrew Nicolaou, our developer, has worked incredibly hard and doesn't seem to have gone home for the last fortnight.
Darren Blane and Lenny Hanniford, two of our designers, faced a few fascinating challenges. For example, I've had DVDs packed with the latest satellite photos of Beijing couriered over to me by Microsoft but, even then, some of the venues still look like building sites.
Having stared at a threadbare Bird's Nest surrounded by construction vehicles and dust, we decided to illustrate Beijing's Olympic Green ourselves - but where do you get good-quality top-down images of the venues? You need good reference points for good graphics, but it proved difficult to get hold of the right material. In the end we rang a colleague who was spending a week in Beijing, and begged him to pop into a local bookshop and see what he could find, postcards, books, maps, anything. Thankfully he came up trumps.
Prior to the latest satellite imagery turning up, there had also been some great fun and games trying to guess where venues like the Shunyi rowing and canoeing park were, using a few other sources. (Given we only had a vast expanse of fields in the old satellite view, I'm proud I was only 100 yards out with that one.)
You may also notice that if you zoom in on the sailing venue, Qingdao, there is a rather large hole in the satellite map data. Some of my more suspicious colleagues might suggest that makes it incredibly difficult to spot any carpets of green algae, but I prefer to think that's just a natural gap in the coverage. We'll try to get new images when we can.
The point of the map is that it gives a bit of context to this summer's Games. For me, and hopefully for you, it's interesting to get an idea of where all the different events will be taking place.
But alongside that there's the context of where these venues are in relation to famous Beijing landmarks. In choosing which of these to display, I wanted a bit of variety, so while hugely iconic places like the Forbidden City and Tiananmen Square are must-haves, there is also the new CCTV Headquarters building (the "Twisted Donut" on account of its architecture), the Olympic athletes' village, the city's main railway stations and the BBC Sport studios at the delightfully-named Ling Long Pagoda.
Good photos of all these venues and landmarks are sometimes hard to come by, particularly for those venues you don't hear so much about. There are thousands of Bird's Nest photos from all the main picture agencies, but you try finding a selection of pics for the University of Aeronautics and Astronautics Gymnasium (weightlifting venue, since you ask), and you might struggle. Plus it's not always the picture agencies who get the best shots. (Why else would Getty, a leading agency, have just set up an agreement to use some Flickr images?)
Above: A photo of the Bird's Nest taken by Flickr user toomanytribbles.
So for some venues we asked photographers who use Flickr if they'd like to share their photos. Flickr users like toomanytribbles and niklausberger delivered some stunning shots of major venues, and I'm very grateful to them. It's not too late to add your photos either, if you're keen. If you're going to Beijing or you've just come back, take a look here to see where you could contribute. By the way, if you refresh the map you'll get a new Flickr photo for certain venues each time.
The next step is equipping three journalists with mobile phones for Beijing. These handsets have to be the luckiest phones in the world - they went to the Euros, I think they might be getting an outing to the Open golf, and they're booked on the plane for the Olympics, but not before I've got at them.
Using a bit of clever software and the built-in GPS, our reporters will be able to send Twitter updates containing a string of geocode which precisely, and automatically, locates them on the map. That's a step forward from previous major events where we've successfully used Twitter. Similarly, Olympics blog posts from China will appear on the map according to where they were written.
(With the humble exception of this one, which I've stuck in the middle of the map to tell you more about it. As an open and transparent BBC journalist, I confess I'm in London right now, and this blog's marker on the map is as close to Beijing as I'm getting.)
That's enough from me. Go and have a play with the map and post any thoughts in the comments, good or bad. All I ask is be a little forgiving if it takes time to load, bearing in mind its nature.
This was put together quite quickly in the grand scheme of things, but we have four years and a lot of possibilities for London 2012 - so if you've got grand ideas for things we could do next time, I'd love to hear them.
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