Torch-tracking map humanizes spectacle of Olympics

An interactive map lets you track the progress of the Olympic Flame via Flickr pictures, as the torch makes its way toward London. It's a simple site that nonetheless reminds one of the power of the Net to connect us.

Edward Moyer Senior Editor
Edward Moyer is a senior editor at CNET and a many-year veteran of the writing and editing world. He enjoys taking sentences apart and putting them back together. He also likes making them from scratch. ¶ For nearly a quarter of a century, he's edited and written stories about various aspects of the technology world, from the US National Security Agency's controversial spying techniques to historic NASA space missions to 3D-printed works of fine art. Before that, he wrote about movies, musicians, artists and subcultures.
  • Ed was a member of the CNET crew that won a National Magazine Award from the American Society of Magazine Editors for general excellence online. He's also edited pieces that've nabbed prizes from the Society of Professional Journalists and others.
Edward Moyer
3 min read
The interactive map on the left lets you pull up Flickr photos on the right. It's a simple setup, but it's a lot of fun. Screenshot by Edward Moyer/CNET

Wow, are the Olympics here again already? It seems like just yesterday we were all gasping over the opening ceremony in Beijing.

But yes, they're here, or will be as of July 27 (in London of course). And mapping-software company ESRI has provided the technological muscle behind a nice little Web site that could help you wake up to the coming arrival of the games and get your Olympic juices flowing (along with your feelings of international brother- and sisterhood).

The site's title pretty much spells out what the interactive concoction allows you to do: "Follow the Olympic torch's journey around the United Kingdom" as it makes its way toward London for the traditional ritual of "lighting the Flame" to usher in the games.

Brits in Stafford sing a torch song on Day 12 of the Olympic Flame's 70-day U.K. journey. Screenshots by Edward Moyer/CNET

There's a fire-filled map on the left that traces the Olympic Flame's progress through such Britishly named locales as Stoke on Trent, Shrewsbury, and Trowbridge (the Flame will travel to within an hour of 95 percent of people in the U.K., the Isle of Man, Guernsey, and Jersey, says one of the official Olympics sites).

Red-orange flames show where the torch has been -- and is -- on the current day of its journey. Yellowish flames show where it was on days past. And grayed-out flames show where it has yet to be. (As I write this, we're on Day 13 of the 70-day journey, and our intrepid matchstick has reached the burg of Bolton.)

When you click on a flame (try one of the yellowish ones), the right pane refreshes to show you Flickr-posted photos taken at that locale. You can click on photos to enlarge them, and you can scroll around on the map and zoom in and out.

That's about it, as far as we can tell. It's a simple setup, but it's a lot of fun. And it does a great job of getting you in touch with the sort of excitement, civic pride, and neighborly bonhomie that exist at events like this.

It also shows you the homespun greetings that various small-town characters devise for the illustrious visitor.

Oh, those Brits. Screenshots by Edward Moyer/CNET

One photo we stumbled on played well with this -- it had nothing to do with the Olympic torch, really; it simply showed a formation of geese that happened to fly overhead as the torch scuttled through. But it made it seem as if the villagers had specially trained a squadron of birds to mark the occasion (apparently they couldn't afford to hire jet planes). And the villagers themselves might have been struck by that thought as well (somebody, after all, thought to snap a photo). We felt as if we had made eye contact with someone in the crowd, and that we had all shared a smile about this amusing bit of happenstance.

The site provides a nice, salt-of-the-Earth counterpoint to the large-scale official opening ceremonies that kick off the games (as great to watch as those ceremonies can be). And as such, it reminds us of what a remarkable tool for human connection the Internet remains.

(The official pages devoted to the Olympic Torch Relay make for fascinating reading as well, and they're a good complement to the interactive map site. The locals chosen to carry the Flame each have their own unique stories, and the locales are rich with history.)