The much-anticipated ArcGIS.com is now live in Beta. The site allows you to see a map gallery, to share with groups of like-minded map makers, and to make and publish maps online over the Web and to handheld devices. The site has a great deal of functionality that will be enhanced over time as ESRI’s public-facing GIS on the cloud offering. The site is aimed at community development and lowers the barrier to GIS functionality online. I spoke again with Bernie Szukalski, the technology evangelist in charge of this offering, leading up to the launch.
The concept of the template approach to map making is one of the primary enhancements of this release, aiming to create stylized themes and map galleries to reduce the frustrations of entry-level users while also expanding the resources of experts.
“One of the great things about GIS is that you can do so much with it, and one of the bad things about GIS is that you can do so much with it,” said Szukalski. “Any time you have an open system with so much functionality, being able to do so many things in so many ways, kind of makes it a bit of challenge. Especially when you’re looking at interoperability and creating many different similar maps. If a great map is at the top shelf of your closet, then the template is the foot stool that you use to reach that top shelf. It’s the thing that lifts you off the ground and makes it so much easier to create a great map.”
The template is a cartographic information package that reduces the amount of decisions that the user needs to make, with instructions on where to plug your data in, and with a standard set of symbology. The templates concept and tools come from ESRI’s own work toward building their World Topographic Base Map offering, and gains from the company’s trial and error and experimentation. The idea of sharing ones work in a template is a means to build a stronger GIS community as is the ability to share data with the broader GIS community. An interesting feature coming soon will be a map that illustrates where contributors are, illustrating geographically the range and activity of the community.
“This is a constantly evolving and changing map where you’re constantly looking at the latest map, and technology has evolved to support this,” state Szukalski. “One of the things that has empowered this is some of the new caching capabilities in ArcGIS. Rather than have to rebuild cache for an entire map, you can rebuild it for a specific area. This makes it really easy to make incremental updates, because you’re not rebuilding the cache for everything.”
ArcGIS Online has been successful as an online repository of data, but the mass volume of data has meant that it’s a hard site to navigate if you don’t have an understanding of what the data can be used for, and if you don’t have GIS software to open the data and make use of it. This new ArcGIS.com, with the user-generated base map, creates an easy means to access and manipulate the data. ArcGIS.com becomes an integrated user experience, where you don’t need GIS software to use the data, and the data and web applications are free. It’s geared toward a far more casual user base than ever before, which should benefit all GIS users in illustrating what GIS is capable of.