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News outlet Quartz is developing a searchable database of compiled map data from all over the world, and a tool to help journalists visualise this data.

The database, called Mapquery, received $35,000 (£22,900) from the Knight Foundation Prototype Fund on 3 November.

Keith Collins, project lead, said Mapquery will aim to make the research stage in the creation of maps easier and more accessible, by creating a system for finding, merging and refining geographic data. 

Mapquery will not be able to produce visual maps itself, as it simply provides a database of information from which maps can be created – so Quartz will also open source Mapbuilder as the "front end" that will enable journalists to visualise the data.

"Along with global map data from many different sources, we are hoping to also include historic boundary data, which can be useful when writing stories about the history of a neighbourhood or the history of any geographic area," he said. 

"We are aiming for Mapquery to be a comprehensive library of map data, that we can then use to make many different sorts of news maps, or simply to help to give news stories greater context."

"For example, if something is going on in Syria, a reporter might want to show where that event is in relation to Damascus or Aleppo.

"So with this you would be able to get then information from Mapquery to then go on to produce a map that points out where the major cities, airports, highways and bodies of water are," Collins said.

Mapquery will return text to Mapbuilder, which will then be turned into a map.

To make an embeddable map, journalists will have to go into Mapbuilder and paste their data from Map Query into the software.

"Both Mapquery and Mapbuilder will be open sourced, like how we use Quartz's Chartbuilder," Collins said. 

"We use it internally so we don't have a website that the public can go to [for making charts], but we open source the project so that other developers can take that and set it up into their newsrooms, allowing their reporters to use it.

"With Mapquery, we are making an interface that is intuitive, so anyone can go in and make a map without having to think too much or read a lot – you have to follow instructions and get trained on how to do it."

Quartz aims to have a prototype of Mapquery by April, and will continue to develop Mapbuilder afterwards.

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