April 10, 2024 • Web

I spent a long time obsessing over the colors of the dots


My first time building an interactive map comes courtesy of the Freedom in College Newsrooms project, a collaboration between the University of Florida’s Brechner Freedom of Information Project and the Student Press Law Center that analyzes the health and independence of college news outlets across the country.

I can only take partial credit for the map, which uses the leaflet.js library to generate its foundation (I didn’t draw the country by myself, in other words). But the other stuff — threading all that data through the map, dynamically converting zip codes to map coordinates, designing a map key and a filtering system that’s robust but not a pain to use — took a little creative coding that is (a) more my domain and (b) thankfully invisible to both the users of the map and the folks who keep the data up to date.

As with some other projects — and perennially with inspiration from the people who decided the original Macintosh should be as pretty on the inside, where few will ever look, as it is on the outside — I strived to make the map’s administrative underbelly as pleasing and polished to look at and use as the map itself. The map data’s stewards have multiple options for keeping it update — a per-entry form, a bulk form, and an upload tool that also doubles as a backup tool. They’re fast, they work, and they look nice, because people deserve nice things that work, even if few people will ever see firsthand how nice they are.