Friday, December 16, 2011

The 15-Minute ArcGIS Geoportal

You can use MS Excel and a URL parameter to create a geoportal in 15 minutes.  No programming.

The 15-Minute ArcGIS Geoportal is a web page that

  • Serves as a catalog of your ArcGIS Server map services
  • Shows each of your services in two different online webmaps;
  • Provides a link to your map service description. *

(* See my article about publishing Metadata Lite to your ArcGIS Server REST catalog.)

It's a very fast and simple way to give your stakeholders a look at all of your map services.

Built on the "Map Service" URL Parameter

Kenneth Field blogged for Esri about adding URL location parameters for sharing ArcGIS online webmaps.  His article also points to the Esri Help on URL parameters.  I followed up with a note specifically about variations in the Map ID parameter sent to different online webmaps.

Now I focus on the URL parameter that accepts a single ArcGIS Server map service URL. This example from Esri Help shows a map service URL sent to the (Javascript) map:

Here is one of my own map services hosted on the Pennsylvania Spatial Data Access (PASDA) GIS server, sent to the same map:

Here is the same service sent to the ArcGIS Explorer (Silverlight) map:

One thing you have to remember with these maps:   Their default settings may not show the layers and popups the way you want them.  You have to find the Contents toggle and check on the map layers.  But this is a fast, low-cost way to show your map data to stakeholders.

Use Excel to Create the Geoportal Page

You can use Excel's simple Concatenate and Autofill functions to create a Geoportal page like this:

15-Minute Geoportal.
Use my simple Excel template to:

  1. Change one cell to show your ArcGIS Server base URL.
  2. Use Excel autofill to create similar HTML table rows for every map service.
  3. Paste the HTML table tags and text into a web page.
  4. In the web page, style the HTML table with CSS.

I hope this helps you and your GIS.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Projection weirdness in ArcGIS and at AGO

I've been working with Philadelphia Public Safety to look at our ArcGIS Server map services in ArcGIS Online maps.  Our points were plotting over central Africa, not Philadelphia.

Obviously, we suspected that part of the problem must be the Penna State Plane coordinate system that we use.  One weird clue was this:  When we added the PPS basemap (Penna State Plane) as basemap to the AGO app, the point layers plotted ok.  But if we used the Esri basemaps that are default on AGO, the points float over Africa.

We compared the few data layers that displayed ok, against those that didn't.  We found that the bad map layers didn't have the right coordinate system listed in the Data Frame Properties in ArcMap.   We tried different scenarios to fix this.  The point layer was created as an XY Event Layer.  If we added this first to the ArcMap Data Frame, the coord system would not register correctly to the Frame.  We had to first add the PPS basemap (Penna State Plane) to the map, then create the point layer, then remove the basemap before publishing the service to ArcGIS Server.

We don't understand why.  Do you?  Leave a comment. 

Friday, December 9, 2011

Metadata Lite: Publishing metadata cheap (or not at all) through ArcGIS Server

You can use ArcGIS Desktop to author metadata for data layers in your geodatabase, and to publish your data as web services on ArcGIS Server.  But you can't publish your geospatial metadata with those web services.

Esri will say, Not true.  You can publish your metadata to the Web through Esri's free Geoportal Server.  Then point your metadata on the Geoportal Server to your map services on your ArcGIS Server, like this:

Right.  But that means you have to do the same task twice -- send your metadata to your geodatabase and send it again to your geoportal.  Besides maintaining two applications servers for this purpose.

This redundancy sits atop the already cumbersome and expensive process of authoring, publishing, and maintaining FGDC/ISO-compliant geospatial metadata.

Are there less expensive options?  Even Esri's FGDC/ISO-compliant metadata guru seems to think so.  Here is a slide from Marten Hogeweg's geoportal workshop at the 2011 Dev Summit:

(The title/question is mine, not Marten's.)

Marten was talking about different metadata for different audiences.  The public does not want or need FGDC/ISO compliant metadata.  So, how can we meet the public demand, as well as the needs of our professional partners in the GIS community?  I suggest a middle path - Metadata Lite - that's already suggested in Marten's diagram.

Yes, "Verbose Metadata is Desired" for the GIS Specialist Community.  But today more GIS professionals are concerned with pushing data out to the public.  Knowing that, it seems to me that Esri (unconsciously?) moved away from fully-compliant metadata  when they "forgot" to support metadata publishing through ArcGIS Server 9.3 and 10.  And now we see mere "tagging" promoted in Marten's metadata/geoportal presentations.    

Take a look at  At the Esri MUG last week, Clint Brown told us that millions of maps are added to each month.  But where is the geospatial metadata that enables search in a geoportal?  There is none at  You can't search through others' FGDC/ISO-compliant metadata, and you can't publish your own there.  

There is only Metadata Lite -- tagging to give a minor boost to the search function:

If you want to publish descriptive info about your map data, there are a couple of free/low-cost options.  First, you can publish your data in map apps at  (See my other posts about using for your organization's geodata portal.)  Then simply author the descriptive information in the details page.  San Mateo County GIS has done it this way, using a text template to ensure that all the legal info is included, like in this example:

Even better, I think, is to publish your geospatial metadata through your ArcGIS Server REST catalog.  When it's in the REST catalog, it doesn't intrude on the public attention span, yet GIS professionals can find it when they need it.

This is what Metadata Lite looks like from San Mateo County, published through ArcGIS Server to the county's REST catalog:

But 90 percent of the time, if you open up a REST service page like this, all the fields are blank, except a few that are machine-generated,  like Extent and Spatial Reference.  Why can't we simply author metadata that shows up in the REST catalog?  Because ...

You need a wiring diagram.  Because some of the REST catalog fields are populated from the ArcMap Document Properties tab.  Others from the ArcMap Data Frame Properties tab.  Others from the ArcGIS Server Manager Properties tab.  Like this:

Besides that, the field names are different for the same information found in the source (e.g. ArcMap) and the destination (REST page).  Like this:

So, here are a couple of wiring diagrams to help you populate the REST catalog fields:

2.  Metadata Lite live map service - hosted at University of Maryland, shows where the REST catalog fields values originated.

(From a presentation I gave at the 2011 Esri MUG)

Thursday, December 1, 2011

You need this visual tutorial to see your Latitude history in Google Earth

Latitude's default location history map and KML export  will only give you one day at a time.  This tutorial helps you work around the limit to view your entire location history in Google Earth or another map viewer.

(Thanks to Ask Metafilter for the tip.)



Choose today or a different end date.

With the end date selected, right-click the "Export to KML" link and select "Copy Link Address".

Paste that link address into a text editor.

Change the default start date (which will be about 24 hours before the end date) to some much smaller number:

Paste the modified URL into your browser, hit Enter, save the KML file.

Load the KML file into Google Earth or another map viewer.

Google Latitude export ... One day only ... And no wonder.

Google Latitude used to let you export a date range of your location history to view in Google Earth or other maps.  Now you can only see a day at a time.  This post explores some possible reasons why.  (Another post shows the workaround.)  I don't think it's about data download size.  It's about not confusing the user.

Google Latitude seems to offer a great way to do geospatial analytics on yourself.  But mostly, Google guesses what you want to know about yourself and does the analytics for you.  Click the Latitude Dashboard to get Google's analysis of your movements:

But what if you want to analyze your movements differently?  How about just seeing your locations over time on the map? Click a calendar date and see a map of your locations:

But that's it. Only one day at a time.  

How about exporting the last 6 months of your locations so you can do some real geospatial analysis?  In the past, you could export a data range to KML to view in Google Earth.  But Google decided a few months ago to remove that option, and now you can only export a day at a time.  This caused some anger among users.  (Users found a workaround described here.  I offer it as a visual tutorial in another post.)

If you work around the limitation and get lots of locations into KML and Google Earth, here is the mess you'll see:

No wonder Google doesn't want to give you all this data.

I expected to see more clearly identifiable tracks.  But there are two problems:  

First, Latitude is taking my locations not just from GPS, but also from cell towers.  Like the tower at the center of the San Mateo Bridge over San Francisco Bay.  And along El Camino Real west and north of Redwood City.  

What gives the impression of false tracks is that the KML is drawing lines between time-sequential points (including widely spaced cell towers).  Often there aren't enough data points to create a useful track.  (I don't know enough about KML to switch this off and look at just the points without the connectors.)

Besides misleading connectors between points, the zoomed out view illustrates another problem:

I know I didn't visit Florida or Hawaii in this time window (although I wish I had.)  What's the problem?  

Google suggests the answer in their disclaimer about location accuracy and source data.  When GPS is turned off or not available, Latitude uses wifi (not an issue here) or cell tower ID to get your location.  Even when GPS is turned one, "When Latitude is running in the background, it will default to cell ID (cell tower) location on most phones to preserve your battery life."

Another note in the disclaimer suggests why cell tower data can invent my "visits" to Florida and Hawaii: 

"Cell ID (cell tower) accuracy depends on ... available data in Google's cell ID (cell tower) location database."  The phone doesn't give the cell tower location to Latitude; it just gives the cell tower ID number.  Google has to get the lat/long by looking up the cell tower ID in their database.

What they don't explicitly say is that many of their cell ID records may be not only inaccurate, but totally bogus.  So, your cellphone pings Sprint tower 000328282.  And Google's cell tower database has that listed in Plains, Georgia -- not San Francisco, where you really are.

Limiting your location view to one day at a time would make outliers stand out, so they are easily disregarded.  Maybe this generates fewer complaints from Latitude users.

Friday, November 25, 2011

Esri URL Parameters (Part 2: Webmap, Mapkey, Open, or Itemid… It’s all the Same)

My last post showed how San Mateo County (Calif.) used URL parameters to create a Public Maps Gallery with options for different map viewers, like in this example.   We authored our maps at to show map services on the County GIS server.  Then we sent the unique map ID as a URL parameter to four different map viewers.

But there’s a catch with this approach:   Esri uses a different URL parameter with each map viewer – to send the same information.  (It seems like the Esri dev teams for each of the map viewer APIs were not talking to each other.)  I couldn't find a single listing for all the variations, so I put together this list myself:

For this Esri Map Viewer…
…This is the URL parameter for the web map Map Viewer
Javascript Templates hosted at
Esri Javascript Templates hosted on a local web server
ArcGIS Explorer (Silverlight) Map Viewer      
ArcGIS Viewer for Flex

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Configurators Love Esri's URL Parameters (Part 1: One Parameter, Lots of Map Apps)

URL parameters are no big deal for web map programmers.  They use URL parameters all the time to configure complex web applications at use-time.   But they're a big deal for Configurators  --  map makers who are only programmer wannabes.  We could never make a living programming.  But we can do a lot of web mapping by reconfiguring other people's code.

Esri has opened up lots of possibilities for Configurators.  It's possible for Configurators to adapt the Esri Javascript API code samples, but the learning curve is steep.   Their Flex Viewer is easier to configure.  Just change XML tag content.  Easiest of all are the web map apps at  Once the map is authored, the unique map ID can be sent to several pre-built viewers.

San Mateo County (Calif.) took advantage of web map parameter to create a Public Maps Gallery that gives users several viewing options.  We authored our web maps at to show map services on the County GIS server.  Then we sent the web map unique ID as a URL parameter to several different map viewers.

The map of Whitehouse Creek - Parcels Adjacent to Rare Species Habitat is a good example.

Additional map viewer options appear at the bottom of this simple viewer:

  • Full-Service Map Viewer ( is the standard Javascript map viewer hosted at
  • Presentation Map is ArcGIS Explorer Online map viewer at, built with Microsoft Silverlight.  This map viewer requires the Silverlight plug-in.  It has many advanced features for configuring the map layers and popups, and for creating online presentations for “telling the story with maps.”
  • SMC Flex Map is Esri’s ArcGIS Server Map Viewer for Flex, which has been locally configured and hosted on the San Mateo County web server.
  • SmartPhone Map is a simple Javascript map viewer template hosted at  We could have customized and hosted this on the San Mateo Countyweb server instead.  Its simple format is useful for small-format mobile devices.  But this template has no capability to turn map layers on/off, so it's limited to showing only those map layers the map author made visible when the web map was saved.

There are some gotchas with the URL parameter for the unique map ID.  You can see this by comparing the map ID parameter that is actually sent in the URL for each of the map viewers.  More about this in my next post.

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Location Intelligence for Bottom-Up Criminal Gang Analysis

Last week I visited a crime analysis center in the mid-Atlantic region.  I was there to provide consulting on enterprise GIS design and implementation.  The biggest challenge at this center was processing of incoming data -- automated entity extraction, normalization, and geocoding.

But I was also interested in their analysis process and how GIS and location intelligence can contribute.  Gang crime analysts at this center spend a lot of their time trying to categorize crimes and arrests by gang.  That is, labeling the suspect or event as belonging to MS-13 or Bloods or Crips, etc.  At the same time, they admitted that their partners and stakeholders don't always agree on the attributes of each gang, or even what is a gang-related incident or person.

I wondered, Why is it important to assign a gang label?  Is it so that similar behaviors, attributes, and territories can be assumed for all persons and events assigned to the same gang?  So that law enforcement can exploit contacts and leads already established within a well-known, named gang?  The best answer from the gang analysis team was this:  Categorizing helps law enforcement agencies allocate resources.  (Translation?  If you have an MS-13 or Bloods or Crips problem in your jurisdiction, you get more funding and other resources?)

I thought that a different approach might lead to better interdiction:  Instead of assigning gang labels from the top down, work from the bottom up.  Like this:

Use traditional social network analysis (ie link analysis) to define and diagram links between individuals and events, using whatever linkage data isavailable -- phone calls and address books, crime and arrest locations, last-known address, relatives and associates.  Most of these data inputs have a location component.

Courtesy of .

Use geographic proximity, along with more complex location and societal algorithms, to calculate relative weights for each link between two individuals.

As the network or "gang" grows outward from a single person or crime/event of interest, give it an arbitrary name.  Forget about MS-13 or Bloods or Crips for now.  If an association with a big-name gang emerges, that is a useful data point.  But it's not the focus of analysis.  The focus is to understand the close-in, immediate gang or family or mafia that more certainly characterizes the suspect or event of interest, and which can be exploited.  Rather than boxing the group into big gang categories.

I'm sure that most of the crime and link analysis software packages can do weighted link analysis.  Not sure, though, how they integrate location into their formula.

Friday, November 4, 2011

ISO19115 to REST – You can’t go there with metadata

It took me awhile to figure out that it's not easy to author geospatial metadata that will show up in your ArcGIS Server REST catalog for a map service.

The Excel table “Geospatial Metadata Authoring for ArcGIS Server REST and ArcGIS Online Display Throughput”  is a plumbing diagram.  It shows the information flow (and barriers) from ISO19115 metadata authoring in ArcGIS Desktop to display in the ArcGIS Server REST catalog and ArcGIS Online.

I wanted to understand how to author metadata so that it shows up in the ArcGIS Server REST directory and in map descriptions at ArcGIS Online.  And to find opportunities to author metadata once and use it in many places.  I used the ArcGIS desktop metadata editor (ISO19115 NAP format) to author metadata for two map layers (feature classes) and one map document (.mxd).  I published the map service then examined the REST directory.

In the table, metadata input columns are on the left:

§  The ISO19115 NAP metadata fields required by San Mateo County GIS
§  ArcMap Map Document (.mxd), Group Layer, and Layer Properties fields
§  ArcGIS Server Manager configuration fields
§  ArcGIS Online Map Details fields

Web outputs are on the right:

§  ArcGIS Server REST Directory
§  ArcGIS Online Web Map Details page

I was surprised to find that:

  •  For Layers in an ArcMap Document, no text from any field in the metadata editor appears in the ArcGIS Server REST directory for the resulting map service.
  • These REST directory fields are populated from these Layer Properties fields in ArcMap (not the metadata editor):
    • Description  (Description in mxd)
    • Copyright Text (Credits in mxd)
Tags added in the ArcMap Document Properties page appear as "Tags for Searching" in the metadata editor.

Confused yet?  If you want to document your map service, you need a metadata roadmap.

Why doesn’t Esri support metadata publishing through ArcGIS Server and ArcGIS Online?

Part of my task at San Mateo County GIS (Apr-Oct 2011) was to set up a process for publishing geospatial metadata along with the County’s map services.  We looked at Esri’s free Geoportal Server.  But we decided that was overkill for the County’s data sets.  And we were also having trouble with metadata authoring and publishing with ArcGIS v10.  We needed to publish metadata through ArcGIS Server and the REST API, or through ArcGIS Online where the public would access our map services.  But we couldn’t do either one.

Why doesn’t Esri support metadata publishing through ArcGIS Server and ArcGIS Online?

This is what I've concluded from my conversations with several Esri customer reps and product managers, including  Sud Menon:

Back in the late 90s the federal government wanted to save money by sharing data so it didn’t have to pay to collect the same data twice.  The Federal Geographic  Data Committee (FGDC) thought it was a good idea to develop a metadata standard and taxonomy to enable fast searching on tags, keywords, and technical data descriptions.   FGDC figured that vendors like Esri should support this with geosptial metadata creators and search capability.  Esri agreed, probably because the USG is their biggest customer. 
So Esri built the first geoportal that provided the search and share capability for Dept of Interior’s site, based on FGDC standard metadata.  Esri (and everyone else in big government) thought that government organizations could mandate that their GIS units would make the effort to document all their geodata in the FGDC metadata standard.   But it didn’t happen, because it's too big an investment for most organizations.

When Esri developed ArcGIS Online, they opted not to support full FGDC metadata either.  And when they developed ArcGIS Server v9 and v10, they again gave it little attention.  Esri focused instead on simple key words and minimal tag information -- less metadata for more audience – to keep the hurdle low for sharing geodata. 

Esri says that ArcGIS Server will support metadata publishing through the geodatabase in the future.   In Q&ADiscussion before the 2011 UC, Esri announced:

“ArcGIS Server 10.1 will automatically capture and store basic metadata about the GIS services you create and allow you to enhance metadata documentation with descriptions, summaries, tags and other information. Any client accessing these services as well as anyone using and the Portal for ArcGIS will be able to leverage this information....  you can create and update your GIS service metadata using the tools that are built-in to ArcGIS. This metadata will be available via a simple URL.”

Lots of organizations went to the trouble of creating structured metadata.  But San Mateo County has only a loosely-structured html-based metadata catalog.  The best approach for the County now seems to be a blend of FGDC-like metadata documentation for geodata that is complex, that must be accurate and precise, and/or is a component of a geodata model that is shared among GIS experts.  And to author and publish a more compact set of simpler (but still standardized) tags and keywords for most geodata shared with partners and the public.

Standard tags is what we used for “metadata lite” with the San Mateo County Geodata Catalog.

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Metadata really does matter ... to me, right now

Tonight I worked on assembling Chicago area map layers to inform a real estate analysis task.  I pulled together map services into Chicago Area Land Use Map.

 I found some usable map services by googling for ArcGIS Server REST catalogs like this:

url:rest AND url:arcgis AND chicago

I found interesting map layers from and Loyola Univ.  But guess what... not a single word of descriptive metadata was published with any of these map services.  The Loyola server is obviously used by students, so I can understand why there's no documentation.  But the .gov GIS server is public-facing and, I would assume, authoritative.  But I can't really tell.  Can't tell anything about any of these services.

Maybe the map service authors couldn't figure out how to get information into the REST catalog fields for these services.  It's not straightforward when publishing to ArcGIS Server.

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Public Map Gallery for San Mateo County

This week I finish a 6-month work assignment with the San Mateo County (Calif.) GIS Team.  I wrote about this assignment back in March, just before I started.

My task was to use free resources ArcGIS Online to make SMC geodatabase layers available to the public.  Supporting tasks were:
  • Improve metadata authoring workflows to better support web map services.
  • Publish all county geodatabase map layers that can be released to the public, as map services.
  • Publish a geodata portal.
  • Publish a map gallery that uses the county map services.
[ The complete task description is here . ]

The idea was to see if we could deliver geodata and maps over the Web at very low cost and without professional software developers.  (I'm not a programmer.)

I'll post the link to the map gallery next week, after we get the okay from the county.  I'll say more about metadata, map services, and geoportal in the next posts.

Saturday, March 19, 2011

Compare 3 Maps Side-by-Side on the CRH Web Site

Choptank River Heritage

A new “CRH Comparison Maps” web page at Choptank River Heritage shows CRH historic sites overlaid on three small maps side by side.  Each map has a different basemap:  Streets, USGS Topo, and Satellite Imagery.

Use the checkboxes to sync the Scale (Zoom) and/or Location.  Try different combinations, like zoomed out for Street Map view and zoomed in for Satellite Imagery view.

Note:   When you check the sync option, the zoom bars in the maps disappear.  You can still  zoom in by using Shift while you draw a box over the area you want to zoom to.  But you can’t zoom back out with the keys and mouse.  You can work around this by unchecking the sync options.  Then use one map as the control.  Right-click on the map to sync the other maps to your control map.

I’m still looking into why popup windows for each site don’t work in these small maps. 

I appreciate your comments and feedback on usefulness (or not) of these maps.

GIS Technical Details

You can see the original larger maps that are more interactive (change basemap, pop up info windows, etc.) here:

It was pretty fast and easy for me to create these three side-by-side maps by first authoring a single “master map” on  That map is built on the CRH map service that I published on the UMd MPS GIS Program’s ArcGIS Server. 

To create three new, separate maps with different basemaps for the Comparison Maps web page, I changed the basemap on the original map with a different “Save As” each time. generated a new webmap key (unique URL) for each map.

With the map open at, I clicked “Share”, then “Create Web App”, and selected the Javascript map template I wanted.  In this case, Compare Maps template.  I downloaded and unzipped the html and javascript files into my web folder (c:/inetpub/wwwroot/maps/). 

In the layout.js file, I changed the title of the map page.  Then I changed the 3 default maps to my own CRH maps, by changing the webmap key number that you can see in the URL when looking at the map in  Here I was just following the two simple steps explained in the ReadMe file that came with the download.

For my map #3 with satellite imagery basemap, I got an error message that I didn’t have permission to use that resource.  I thought it might be the imagery basemap that required a Bing Maps key.  But I noticed that the map title didn’t show up either, so I guessed that I had failed to set the permissions for that map to “Everyone” when I created it at   Easily fixed that problem.

After I tested the map, I uploaded the html, css, and js files to my web server.  It was easy.

Friday, March 18, 2011

New Maps on New CRH Web Pages

Choptank River Heritage

Check out the new mini-maps embedded here and in all the new Choptank River Heritage web pages.  (Caution:  Many of the CRH pages are still being built.)

Start by clicking to zoom out till you see just the outline of the Choptank watershed.  Then click back in and see how the icons for the sites change, and then zoom in till the labels also appear. 

The GIS Tech Details

Web and online mapping technologies are really amazing.  Grab parts from different places on the Web, then plug and play.  If you've published a web site, you know what I'm talking about.  It's even cooler with web map servers running on GIS technologies and standards.  Make changes to the map once, and they appear in all the CRH web pages.

The mini map in the CRH web pages is actually a re-rendering of the Javascript map here.  This is much more capable map application than the mini-map.  You can change basemaps, turn layers on/off, add your own stuff and resave, etc.  These map viewers are easy to build at Esri's

The trick is that you need a map service to build on.  The CRH map on is built on map services that I created and are listed in an industry-standard web map services ("REST API") directory here.  Those map services sit on a Univ of Maryland ArcGIS Server that the program director still lets me access and use.  (Thanks again to Dr. Jianguo Ma.)

Down at this foundation level -- map services -- is where the GIS/cartographer skills come in.  Using ArcGIS desktop software to author the map that produces the map service on the ArcGIS Server.  But once a web programmer (I don't mean me) knows the "/MapServer" URL above, she can build many types of Web maps and apps using my map services along with others.  Just like I've embedded mini-map for CRH pages into this blog also, here:

Pan, Zoom, Click the Points on this Map.

Or View Larger Interactive Map

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Fast-Mapping in San Mateo County, Calif.

I'll start work with the GIS Lead in San Mateo County, California, in a few weeks.  SMC already has a public-facing ArcGIS Server.  With map services in place, it was easy for me to start publishing web maps from the SMC server while I'm still sitting in Philadelphia. I added some of the county's existing geospatial data to a map here in my blog, using map publishing tools at  The map bwlow shows something called the "SB375 Corridor".  I'm not sure yet what that is, but I'll find out soon enough.

This took me ten minutes to put together, including blog text and posting, and going back to switch map layers. (From housing to transportation. You can click "Larger Map" and turn layers on and off, change the basemap, and add others layers you might search and find.)

View Larger Map

Friday, February 25, 2011


Esri's Bern Szukalski visited the City of Philadelphia GIS team in early December to show and discuss ArcGIS Explorer (AGX) capabilities. We were considering using AGX or AGX Online (AGXO) to present the city's GIS strategic plan to stakeholders. Bern asked if we thought AGXO would be adequate for this project and its objectives, as outlined by the city's Director of Enterprise GIS. I had no reason to doubt it at the time. Now I'm not so sure.

AGX Online is limited to basic labels and popups. It will fall short on a couple of the projects objectives: It won't present the GIS Strategic Plan with a lot of "impact" to city government audiences, nor display "Powerpoint-like" design details, as the GIS Director hoped.

Working the AGXO Frederick Douglass presentation ( ) showed me that AGXO is limited to:
  • Basemaps pan, zoom, and switch
  • Titles and text labels
  • Point, line, and polygon graphics
  • Popups from the graphics that are limited to
    • title and short text
    • displayed image or video
    • one hyperlink
That's all there is.

The strategic plan presentation might be improved somewhat with enhancements in the next release of AGXO, which Bern demo'd at Esri's Federal UC in January. He also described it at . Enhancements are:
  • map feature templates
  • better feature and annotation editing wizards
  • better user experience -- streamlined and simplified for ease of use.
The first two will make authoring more efficient but won't expand AGXO's presentation quality very much. Better user experience will help. This is something that many of my Frederick Douglass AGXO beta testers critiqued.

Maybe Esri can give me access to the new release in time for use on this project.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

The "Search for Frederick Douglass's Birthplace" - interactive map presentation is online:

To get familiar with map/presentation authoring using ArcGIS Explorer Online (AGXO), I created an AGXO presentation using Choptank River Heritage data that I'm familiar with, and which was readily available. 

I've provided feedback to Esri on the AGXO authoring experience.  They requested feedback as part of our collaboration in which they provide tech support for an AGXO project I'm doing for the city of Philadelphia.

Any feedback appreciated.  Your responses to questions like these would help:

Did you have trouble getting or using the Silverlight plug-in that's needed for this?  (It's like the Adobe Flash plug-in.)
Could you find the start button okay?
Does the sequence make sense?  How could it be improved?
Is it easy to read and understand?  How could text or colors be improved?
What's missing?
What's extra that should be removed?
What type device did you use to view the presentation (e.g. laptop, iPad, phone type?)
What browser and operating system did you use?


Aerial photos of the Frederick Douglass Birthplace are online.

See the photos here .

I flew this site in 2004.  The album includes an index map that shows the location and orientation of each photo.

The actual birthplace is 4 miles (7 miles by road) from the highway marker in Talbot County, Maryland, that commemorates Douglass.  I'll publish the URL soon for an online map-based presentation, "The Search for Frederick Douglass's Birthplace".

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Choptank GIS :: Projects under way

I'm working on these Choptank heritage mapping projects:
  • Map viewer to be hosted at that will show locations and give info popups with links to web pages and pics for:
    • Historic sites on the Choptank and Tuckahoe (CRHC inventory)
    • National Register of Historic Places (data provided by MHT).
    • Public Landing
    • Some environmental/education sites
      This map viewer will be built on Esri's ArcGIS Viewer for Flex.
  • "The Search for Birthplace of Frederick Douglass's Birthplace".  A map-based presentation built on Esri's ArcGIS Explorer online.  This should be public in time to commemorate Black History Month.

Monday, January 31, 2011

Can't live without (someone else's) ArcGIS Server

I've paid close attention to Esri's promotion of their "GIS for everyone" resources at  Just go there, Esri says, and create your own maps by "mashing up" satellite imagery, street or topographic basemaps, census data, environmental data.  And add your own lines, polygons, markers, and labels.

That works if you can don't mind using everyone else's data but your own.

So far, if you want to create maps on with your own data, you have to own ArcGIS Server.  Or borrow one.  Then publish your data as map services on ArcGIS Server.

You can't upload your own data to from Excel, or as Esri shapefiles, or as Esri layer packages, and add them to your "Map for Everyone" at  You can post those data files,  and others can download them to display in desktop map viewers.  But that's not what we're talking about here.

Thanks to Dr. Jack Ma at Univ. of Maryland, I still have access to their ArcGIS Server after graduating from the MPS GIS program.  (Jack gets a little payback - and occasional class presentation from me.)  Here's the REST directory:

Two ArcGIS Servers are better than one.  Especially when Server #1 has limited tech support.

While working the past six months for the City of Philadelphia GIS Director, I also connected with Maurie Kelly, director of the PASDA geodata portal at Penn State.  I'm grateful to Maurie for providing map service publishing support for Choptank River Heritage geospatial data.  (Maurie's generous logic is:  Choptank flows into Chesapeake ... Susquehanna flows thru PA into Chesapeake ... So, yeah, let's host it on PASDA.)  Here's the REST directory:

Once you have map services published on ArcGIS Server, wow, there's so much you can do: mashups, AGXO map presentations, Flex map viewer from my own web site, data downloads, geoportal, geoprocessing services.  Even output KML for Google-based services.

Saturday, January 1, 2011

Configuring things out with GIS

I'm exploring a variety of approaches for mapping history and tourism resources for the Choptank, and to build web and mobile services based on geographic information systems (GIS).  I'm working this not from a software developer's position (I'm not a qualified programmer) but as one of a species which Esri's Derek Law calls "configurators".  I take advantage of GIS software platforms that enable subject matter experts to create maps and geographic services.  Without hard-core programming,  but with something related -- applications configuring or lightweight scripting.

Here is a list of GIS-based resources that I've used recently, or that I plan to experiment with:
  • Esri
    • ArcGIS Explorer Online
    • ArcGIS Explorer Desktop
    • community mapping
    • ArcGIS Viewer for Flex
    • REST-based map services via ArcGIS Server
  • Google
    • My Maps
    • Google Mapmaker
    • Google Earth
  • BatchGeo
    • Geocoding data in Excel tables
Please comment on your favorite GIS resources for non-programmers.