MapBox: open-source rival to Google Maps

We get under the hood of MapBox, a rival service to Google Maps that uses open source map data, to find out how it's put together.

MapBox is a fantastic site for designing and publishing maps. It offers different tools for styling and deploying them as well as providing services for hosting them. Many of these tools utlise OpenStreetMap - a collaborative project to create a free editable map of the world that's free to download and use.

MapBox is already being used by location app Foursquare and other companies may well be tempted by the opportunities to avoid the fees that Google charges for large-scale use of Google Maps.

The way MapBox is built is somewhat unusual. Developer Young Hahn of Development Seed explains it’s powered by something of an anti-CMS, Jekyll, and GitHub pages. "Jekyll is a simple and subtly powerful way to make websites," he says. "Jekyll is a converter, not a server. It runs any time you want to update your site but doesn’t need to be running for your website to be live.

"We aren’t sure yet when Jekyll is the right tool for the job but we are sure of this: we’re excited about Jekyll and the concept of converters rather than servers," he continues. "Jekyll has made our website easy to work with (everyone on our team knows HTML and markdown, and working with YAML is a breeze), extremely fast (it’s hard to beat the speed of serving static files), and worry-free: there are no entry points to hack and there is no live web app to go down."

This showcase was originally published in .net magazine issue 234.

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