Name: CartoDB
$: Varies
Examples: Syria conflict: a year of deaths mapped (featured image), A Map of Attacks on Health Care in SyriaDeath sentences and executions in 2014Does your country share your data with the USA?
Level: Intermediate
Use For: Visually representing research; Mapping change over time


CartoDB allows the user to create interactive online maps. Free accounts cannot have private maps but have unlimited map views. Subscription plans start at $29 per month or $319 per year and Enterprise plans start at $7,999 per year. Most of CartoDB Editor’s features are designed so they can be used by those without coding knowledge. However, using CartoDB Platform developers can incorporate the maps into their applications. CartoDB maps can be viewed on a variety of browsers and mobile devices.

Data can be added to CartoDB in a variety of forms, including SHP, KML, and CSV. These files can be imported from a computer, Google Drive, Dropbox, Twitter, ArcGIS Online, and Salesforce. The user can also create an empty table and add data to it manually. Once uploaded the data can be edited and georeferenced as necessary.


It is easy to switch between table and map view while editing. To create a map that can be shared the visualize option must be selected, this allows the user to configure the map for desktop or mobile and add elements such as titles and annotations. When mapping the data, multiple layers can be added and SQL can be used to choose what data from each table is mapped.


CartoDB has a variety of basemaps or custom maps from platforms like Mapbox can be used. There are also visualization wizards that allow the user to choose from a variety of preset ways to visually represent their data. The map legend is preset by the wizard but can be adjusted. The Torque option allows the user to create animated maps that show changes in data over time. Information windows can be set to appear when the geographic feature is clicked or hovered over and can be adjusted to include the desired fields from the table.

CartoDB has a fairly intuitive platform, however the online introductions and tutorials are very helpful. CartoDB also provides guides about how to use SQL and CartoCSS in the editor. The geolocation feature can be difficult to use for some types of information, but overall is an incredibly valuable tool.




Name: Mapbox
$: Varies
Examples: Demand Justice Now (featured image), North Korea: Political Prison Camps, Syrian Humanitarian Funding, Registered Syrian Refugees
Level: Intermediate to Advanced
Use For: Generating basemaps; Visually representing research


Mapbox allows the user to create interactive online maps. It is free with limited map views, storage and custom styles. Subscription plans start at $5 per month and go up to $499 per month. More advanced users can build custom mobile and web applications.


The user can create customized maps using Mapbox’s online platform. Mapbox has street, terrain, and satellite basemaps that can be customized with colors and languages. The user can draw markers, lines and polygons or import a variety of files including CSV and KML. The features can be given a title and description.


Maps can be viewed on desktops and mobile devices and can be shared through links or embedded in websites. Each map has a Map ID which can be used to import the map into other platforms such as StoryMap JS. Those who are new to Mapbox can use its guides to learn how to create maps.

Mapbox Studio:

Mapbox Studio is a desktop application that allows the user to create maps. It has some preset map styles or the user can choose their own files. Mapbox recognizes shapefiles and allows multiple layers to be added to any project. Mapbox provides a guide about how to convert an ArcMap visualization into Mapbox. To change the appearance of the layers CartoCSS is used; Mapbox Studio has a guide to CartoCSS in the program under Docs. The user can adjust coloring and font, as well as make these features specific to the level of zoom.


Once the map has been adjusted to the user’s satisfaction the map can be uploaded to Mapbox online, the user can also upload styles and data. The map can be further adjusted once it is on Mapbox online. Mapbox Studio also allows the user to export an image of the map as a png or jpeg. For those who do not know CartoCSS Mapbox online is a better option than Mapbox Studio.