GIS on the Web – get involved

Hi everyone,

In my blog for this month I am having a look at GIS on the web and why I love it.

In my role I am involved with clients from a variety industries with many different uses of GIS (one of the main reasons I love working in GIS) – however one common theme that is definitely coming to the forefront is an understanding of the importance and business advantage to be gained from utilising GIS on the web.

Having GIS available through web technology can take on many forms – from full blown web mapping applications with all the bells and whistles of ArcMap, to subtle uses – a user entering in their address on a webpage to locate services nearby or finding the best way to get from A to B – and everything else in between.

There is so much technology available at the moment to help integrate GIS on the web and you don’t have to be a developer to get involved or embarking on a full-scale project, which to me as is the best part!

For a personal example, my friends and I recently took part in a 24 hour Adventure Challenge called Hells Bells – basically it is a massive rogaining course that involves us travelling by foot, kayak, bike and boogey board (!?) over about 100km of the Sunshine Coast collecting marker points. When we finally made it out of the bush (at about 3.30am) and back to civilisation I wanted a way to interactively show people exactly where we had been – basically a web mapping application.

To achieve this I just went and digitised our path on ArcGIS Explorer Online and uploaded it to ArcGIS Online so that I could share the application as a link – it only took me about 20 minutes and I had an easy to use, interactive web map that I could show off with!  Check out my efforts here – Adventure Challenge Web Map (this will prompt to install the Silverlight plugin if you haven’t already got it).

To easily start creating a simple web application we have the access to ArcGIS Explorer Online (as seen above) or the Viewer (these are just cool to check out anyway!) If we want to embark down the track of being able to customise to get what we really need, we have the choice of  the new Flex Viewer (absolutely fantastic!), the ever-growing capability of the Web APIs (Flex, Silverlight and JavaScript) as well as the tools to build applications for all things ‘i’ related.

Although we have easy access to just about all the tools our users could need we need to be a bit careful. One area that we as GIS professionals need to be aware of when starting down the GIS/Web  track is ‘Who are the end users?’ – really understanding the answer to this question before embarking on a project will enable us to get the best use of the end product and meet business requirements. For example I recently helped a client with a web-based application to allow users to search for assets and find out related information at first the client wanted all the tools (zoom in/out, pan etc) available in the application. However when we actually got the end users to test it we found they didn’t want or need half the tools that we had provided, so to keep it simple and to purely meet the business purpose, we removed them.

An excellent place to see where the benchmark is at the moment in terms of great use of GIS on the Web is the Favourite Live User Sites and submitted Live User Sites . From here you can see and launch web mapping applications from all around the world, with a fantastic Australian example as well as one from New Zealand (using the Flex API).  My personal favourite for quite a while has been the City of Greeley Property Information application – I think it really set the standard for simple, easy to use, business driven GIS on the Web.

The key thing with all the above web apps is that they have answered that question of “Who are the end users” really well, and deliver an easy to use tool that performs and looks great – the key to what will keep people coming back!  

GIS on the Web is great and can provide real business advantage by opening up the power of GIS to so many more people than ever before – and with it being so easy to get started it is well worth a look into.

Dom B

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