Posts Tagged ‘help’

Unified map interface

Wednesday, September 24th, 2008

With now three big map views in WALS Online (for features, combined features and language families) it was time to unify the user interface for these maps. With this rework we also wanted to enhance the printing experience for WALS Online maps.

Since the easiest way to print WALS Online maps is via screenshots, we wanted to provide more flexibility in rearranging the screen layout of our maps. Now

  • you can resize the big maps,
  • drag the legend to any position on the screen,
  • hide the legend.

We also added the functionality to display a list of languages for a certain set of values to all big maps. Clicking on the number of languages for a certain value in the legend will display this list above the map. Clicking on one of these languages will open the corresponding info window for the language marker on the map.


  • When resizing the map containers you may have to drag around the map a bit to stipulate loading of the missing map tiles to fill the container.
  • Printing of the underlying Google Maps is subject to Google’s permission guidelines.

New Functionality

Sunday, September 7th, 2008

During the last week I refactored quite a bit of the WALS Online application and while at it, implemented some new functionality.

Some time ago Hans-Jörg Bibiko made me aware of a nuisance in the way feature maps are drawn: The layering of icons was more or less random. So in a first step to remedy this, I made sure icons for the same value are drawn in the same layer and the layers are ordered by decreasing number of associated languages, so that icons for rare feature values will not be hidden. To make the layering completely configurable, the drawing order can now be changed by dragging-and-dropping values in a new control at the bottom of a feature’s values page (as shown in the screenshot from Feature 50).

Another functionality suggested by Hans-Jörg was a bigger map for language families. I implemented this map view as separate page which can be reached from the regular family page, and configured from there as well. As an example, look at the map for the Austro-Asiatic family.

For details about these changes see the complete changeset.

Exporting WALS Data

Thursday, July 24th, 2008

WALS Online is about making the data of the World Atlas of Language Structures accessible – as widely as possible.

To most users the site’s HTML pages will be all the access to the data they care about, but for people who want to work with the data quantitatively a more comprehensive access to the data is necessary.

The Raw Power

For those wanting to unleash the raw power of SQL, we provide the WALS Online SQLite database – the one the web application runs on – for download.

The easiest way we found to work with this database is to use SQLite Manager, a Firefox browser add-on.

The screenshot below shows SQLite Manager with the WALS db loaded, and languages located north of the polar circle – i.e. with a latitude greater than 66.5° – selected.

Power to the Masses

Now SQL isn’t everyone’s first choice for manipulating data; Spreadsheet processors like ms excel or openoffice calc may come closer to that. So since last week, we also provide (most of) the WALS data in a ZIP archive of Delimiter-separated values for download.

Data formatted this way can be easily imported into spreadsheet processors, just make sure to pick the correct character encoding for your platform.

And to the Mapmakers

To include the feature data from WALS in maps, we provide also several exports, explained below in descending order of flexibility.

Single Feature Values as GeoRSS

As announced before, GeoRSS for single values of features are available using the following (somewhat bolted-on) URL syntax. To retrieve the feed for the first value of feature 2:

To retrieve other values, you must pass parameters to set the preceding values to “invisible”. So the URL below will give the feed for the third value:

GeoRSS is easy to include as layer on maps created with OpenLayers.

Complete Features as KML

With URLs like

you can export a feature’s datapoints in KML format, suitable for import in Google Earth.

Features as Mapplets

To add a WALS feature as overlay to a Google map, you can install the mapplet by following the “mapplet” link on the feature’s map page.

New Functionality

Tuesday, April 29th, 2008

Over the last week we rolled out some new functionality requested by our early users:

  • Genealogical browsing pages now show numbers of languages in each family or genus.
  • On genus pages (like ) there is now a link to references for all languages having this genus. (Unfortunately we will not be able to extend this to families as well, because this would result in way too long query URLs for the reference database.)
  • It is now possible to choose the size of the markers on feature maps. This can be done by either using the slider on a feature value page or directly by supplying a URL parameter s=size (where size is the size of the markers in pixels) with the map URL (e.g. ).