Mango vs Mapbox
As we often get asked by customers, friends, family and random people we meet at the pub what the difference is between Mango and web mapping product X, I decided to write a series of posts explaining the differences as I see them. Today I’ll be looking at Mapbox.
Mapbox is a product of two parts, the first part is TileMill. TileMill is a desktop application that can be installed on Windows, Mac and Linux, it’s used primarily to create Mapbox tile sets, but can also be used to generate PNG’s, PDF’s and SVG. The second part is Mapbox. Once you’ve created a tile set in TileMill it can be uploaded to the Mapbox website to become part of a hosted map application.
Mango and Mapbox are similar in many ways, they are both web map publication platforms, and they both allow you to create beautiful hosted web maps. The main difference is how they both go about achieving that, and who the experience is optimised for.
One of the more interesting features on Mapbox is CartoCSS – a CSS-like markup language that gives users fine grained control over the appearance of their layers. I’m a software developer by trade who’s written more lines of CSS than I care to remember, so clearly this is a feature that appeals to me.
Mango on the other hand has a user interface similar to desktop GIS systems that allows users to style their layers via a graphical user interface. Although this approach won’t give the same level of fine grained control that’s possible with CartoCSS, Mango allows most users to create great looking maps in just a few minutes, without the need to follow documentation or study a new markup language.
I think this says a lot about who the products are primarily aimed at. It would be fair to say that Mapbox has been designed to appeal to web and application developers who may be less familiar with GIS and mapping terminology. On the other hand, Mango is optimised for users who are already familiar with GIS but possibly wouldn’t be comfortable writing markup language to control the look and feel of the maps.
Apart from the zoom and share controls, all other Mapbox controls such as the legend and info-windows are coded using standard HTML/CSS. Again, provided the user has sufficient HTML/CSS skills, they have very fine grained control over how these controls will look.
Mango on the other hand has default legend and info-window controls that allow the user to control the data that’s displayed within them, but don’t allow the styling and presentation of the control to be modified.*
* Shortly Mango will be releasing a template feature that will allow users to choose from a selection predefined templates each custom designed to suite a particular use case.
This is another area that highlights the differences between Mango and Mapbox. Mapbox is quite light in terms of end-user functionality, but that’s probably because it’s core business is serving tiles to third-party sites (such as Four Square) and letting their clients code their own application around those tiles.
Mango on the other hand is an end to end web map publication platform and offers rich functionality to the end user, for example allowing map publishers to create maps with many layers, each of which can be switched on or off by the end user, just as they would in a desktop GIS. The end-user can also click-query features in any of the layers to view the underlying meta-data. Add to that report-ready prints and full text search and you have a system that really allows the user to explore the underlying data and get the most from the system.
When is Mapbox the best fit?
Mapbox is a great fit for web map application developers who want to focus their attention on the application and let someone else worry about the intricacies hosting and maintaining a map server and tile cache. Mapbox gives fine grained control of the style of your map which will be important for companies where a web map is central to their business. The learning curve is a little steep especially for non-coders but that’s the cost of fine grained control.
When is Mango the best fit?
Mango is a great fit for anyone with data who wants to get an interactive web map online quickly and easily without having to write any code or having to worry about hosting servers and such. Mango is very easy to learn and most users that are already familiar with GIS or have an interest in map making are able to create their first map in just a few minutes. The map tools such as identify, search and print mean that end-users can get more than just a general overview and can really dig into the underlying data to produce meaningful outputs.