Web GIS has changed how people create and engage with geographic information. Online interactive maps form the primary user experience, serving as both the means of creation and the mechanism for delivery. Using maps, you explore locations and access information, discover new relationships, perform editing and analysis, and effectively share your results. In Web GIS, it’s all about socializing your map.
Maps are important. Everyone understands and appreciates good maps. GIS people work with maps every day. Maps provide the basic experience and practical interface for the application of GIS. Maps are also the primary way that GIS users deliver their work.
Maps provide a critical context because they are both analytical and artistic. Maps carry a universal appeal and offer clarity and shape to the world. They enable you to discover and interpret patterns and share your data.
Online maps can be created by virtually anyone using Web GIS—and can be shared with virtually everyone. These maps bring GIS to life and can go with all of us everywhere on our smartphones and tablets.
Make no mistake, traditional printed maps are not going away. They continue to be important because they enable you to quickly get the broad context of a problem or situation. The best printed maps are true works of art that can stir your emotions. There’s no comparable large-format document that communicates and organizes such large amounts of information so effectively and so beautifully.
Cartographers using ArcGIS will continue their craft of making astounding print maps that teach and amaze. And this will always be the case. Large-format, printed maps and their digital cousins (like PDFs) will continue to significantly occupy the good work of many mapping professionals. The difference now is that GIS tools have come of age for this level of professional cartography.
Meanwhile, there is a major online mapping revolution underway, and the implications of this are far-reaching. We all know that consumer maps are ubiquitous on smartphones and the web. Map-based applications regularly rank among the most-used programs on smartphones and mobile devices. Online maps have familiarized millions of people with how to work with maps, and this massive worldwide audience is ready to apply maps in ever more imaginative ways to their work using Web GIS.
Any map made can be saved and shared as a web map—according to its intended audience and expected uses. The user experience of this map is determined by the application employed. With the ArcGIS platform, users now have more options in designing and implementing purposeful maps, as shown in the apps below.
The water conservation dashboard gives a water district executive the ability to monitor water usage in real time.
This map interface is an advanced input screen for professional GIS data editors.
Maps can be used to tell stories and apps provide the user experience through which you work with maps and share them. Explore a few examples for how you can leverage your web maps to accomplish your goals.
Maps provide windows into information. Many kinds of descriptive information can be stored with a map and accessed on demand for each map feature. Click on any voting precinct in the map to view its report. For example, you can investigate the relationship between ethnicity and income in presidential voting patterns.
Maps provide a powerful way to tell many kinds of stories. ArcGIS story maps make it easy to tell rich, map-based stories in the form of self-contained web apps. These web apps combine intelligent web maps with text, photos, video, and sound to elucidate interesting topics, like this map of endangered languages of the world linked to audio from native speakers.
Sometimes adding thousands or millions of individual features or events helps a more coherent picture to emerge, one that simply couldn’t be seen by any other means. There can be value in adding mapping detail in order to give clarity to an overall view of your data, and sometimes this is referred to as “data art.”
Maps can be used to enable geographic analysis. GIS maps combine powerful visualization with a strong analytic and modeling framework. Just as you can use each map layer as a window into information about features, you can use the map as a window into sophisticated analytical tools and results.
Web maps are online maps created with ArcGIS that provide a way to work and interact with geographic content organized as layers. They are shared on the web and across smartphones and tablets. Each web map contains a reference basemap along with a set of additional data layers, plus tools that work on these layers. The tools can do simple things like open a pop-up window when you click on the map, or more complex things, like perform a spatial analysis and tell you the relative proximity of healthy food options by neighborhood.
At their heart, web maps are simple. Start with a basemap and mash it up with your own data layers. Then add additional tools that support what you want your users to do with your web map: tell stories; perform analytical studies; collect data in the field; or monitor and manage your operations.
Virtually anything you do with GIS can be shared using web maps. And they can go anywhere. Web maps work online and on any smartphone, and along with your supporting GIS work, are accessible anytime.
Web maps are how you deploy your Web GIS. A web map is easy to share with others. You simply provide a hyperlink to the web map you wish to share and embed it on websites or launch it using a wide range of GIS apps.
Anyone can make, share, and use web maps. Let’s start by going through a short example. Suppose you want to make a map that allows you to explore the food, architecture, and design destinations for San Diego.
The map mashup is one of the great force multipliers of modern cartography. The ability to easily share and repurpose digital content has allowed each of us to tackle far more ambitious maps than would be possible if we had to work in isolation or start from scratch. The rise of the map mashup expanded cartography, so that anyone could build upon the work of others. Most of the thousands of maps created and shared every day within ArcGIS are mashups—maps that build upon the data, labor, and insights of a larger community. This era of collaborative GIS has empowered everyday citizens to participate in mapping as never before.
In ArcGIS, map authors can readily access beautiful sets of professionally produced basemaps that provide the digital canvas upon which to tell their stories. Each of the Esri basemaps has a theme or focus. Their range serves the need for almost any map type. Whether it’s terrain, oceans, roads, or another of the many themes, the right basemap complements your subject and provides the background information critical to establishing its geographic context (locations, features, and labels). Each of the Esri basemaps contains highly accurate and up-to-date information, at multiple zoom levels covering geographic scales from detailed building footprints to the entire planet. Providing data at that level of detail, for all locations on the globe, takes a small army of cartographers and eats up terabytes of data. The good news is that each of us can benefit immediately from those efforts.
Basemaps seem simple and relatively unobtrusive—and this is precisely their purpose. They should not upstage the content that is to be overlaid on them. “Operational overlays” carry the subject matter of the map and provide the purpose for making any map. An overlay can be anything—air temperature data, life expectancy, the location of oil and gas wells or live traffic conditions. Merging a great basemap with one or more operational overlays forms the heart of the modern web map.
Some map authors are data creators interested in mapping their own data. Many other authors, however, need help finding operational overlays; they know what they want to map but need guidance in finding the data to fully tell the story. Fortunately, ArcGIS provides access to an array of content to use in operational overlays. The ArcGIS community, including Esri, compiles and shares thousands of ready-to-use authoritative datasets, covering everything from historical census data to environmental conditions derived from live sensor networks and stunning earth observations. Finding mappable, interesting geographic data has never been easier.
Blending together ready-to-use basemaps and operational overlays into a live, dynamic map allows you to share geographic content in a simple and concise format.
Web maps work across multiple scales. Zoom in to see additional details and gain insight. They’re also continuous: they have no edges—you can pan anywhere. Even if you don’t have operational data for a particular area, the basemap will still provide reference.
Your world is full of data, and maps help you to make sense of it. There is a growing need to turn geographic data into compelling maps. All users want to create beautiful, interactive maps and infographics with live data, easily and with confidence. The smart mapping mission is to provide a new kind of strong “cartographic artificial intelligence” that enables virtually anyone to visually analyze, create, and share professional quality maps in just a few minutes, with minimal mapping knowledge or software skills.
Smart mapping is designed to give ArcGIS users the confidence and ability to quickly make maps that are visually pleasing and effective. Cartographic expertise is “baked” into ArcGIS, meaning it’s part of the fundamental user experience of using ArcGIS. The map results that you see in front of you are driven by the nature of the data itself, the kind of map you want to create, and the kind of story you want to tell.
By taking the guesswork out of all of the settings and choices that you could conceivably tweak, your initial map results are cartographically appropriate and look wonderful. You can always change things at will, which you’ll undoubtedly do as you gain more experience, but smart mapping gets you to something effective very quickly. You spend less time iterating and wrangling your maps into fulfilling your intention.
The point is not to take control away from map authors or dumb down the map-authoring experience, but to be smarter about how all of the initial parameters of the map (color, scale, styling, etc.) are established. For example, each of the Esri basemaps (Streets, Dark Gray Canvas, Topographic, etc.) were paired with several multi-hue color schemes that can be used as the defaults for your operational layers. This way you know your map will look good right out of the box without needing any adjustments.
Mapping professionals still have full control and the ability to extend the default capabilities to create unique customizations and truly exquisite, publication-quality cartography.
The most valuable maps are information products. They are visually interesting the very first time you see them, and they reward you with additional information as you look around the map and zoom to an area you know. When you touch the map, it responds by giving you details about the thing you touched—touch a store and it tells you this year’s sales to date with a chart of the previous three years’ sales. Maps are interactive, rewarding experiences, and not just pretty pictures.
Great maps don’t just happen automatically, though. You have to put a little bit of yourself into the effort, just like a great resume, which starts out as a template but requires your information— your data—as well as your interpretation to make it really sing. The data you are mapping won’t tell its story without your help. Once you see the patterns emerging in the map, you can start emphasizing what’s important, and de-emphasizing everything else.
Try to always make “beautiful” maps. By that I mean effective ones that are clear on first opening but that also entice users of all levels to drill in, explore, interrogate, and learn.
Start with the final result you have in mind and work backwards. To paraphrase Roger Tomlinson, one of the fathers of GIS in the 1960s, you’ve got to know what you want to get out of a GIS in order to know what to put into it. Clicking aimlessly leads to a world of hurt. Have a clear idea of what you want to produce, explain, or monitor. Next, get some test data, and then “have a play.”
ArcGIS Desktop, including the ArcGIS Pro application, provides capabilities that enable everyone to make truly excellent maps, including support for highly sophisticated mapping workflows employed by professional cartographers. Desktop includes tools for rich data compilation, for importing data from a multitude of publication formats, and for integrating this data with your own data to create consistent, accurate, and beautiful cartographic products for both printed maps and online maps.
Two key applications available in Desktop provide advanced mapping capabilities. ArcMap has been the workhorse application for serious cartographic production to create print maps and online maps with advanced labeling and impressive cartographic symbols and representations. It is used daily by hundreds of thousands of GIS users worldwide. The new arrival is the modern ArcGIS Pro application, which builds on the tradition for great mapping and adds things like advanced 3D scenes.
Professional mapmakers, who often work at creating map series products for both print publications and their own online basemaps, create and manage their map designs using the desktop applications ArcMap and ArcGIS Pro. They design each map as an ordered series of map layers that get overlayed and combined with other layers, and then symbolized on the final map.
This is an example of how the desktop tools come into play, carrying out the cartographic heavy lifting. Almost every basemap contains a terrain layer, often represented as relief and contours. The terrain layer is literally the foundation for these basemaps. A key requirement for cartographers who create them is to apply useful methods for making detailed and artistic hillshades of their own data for use in their basemaps. Cartographers can download a set of tools including useful terrain mapping techniques, for representing terrain under different lighting conditions.
One of the highlights of Terrain Tools is the new Cluster Hillshade that enables you to make spectacularly detailed and artistic hillshades with your own data. This is just about as close as you can get with an automated process to classic hand-drawn hillshading—and all from just a Digital Elevation Model input and the click of a mouse. Download Terrain Tools for working with ArcGIS Desktop.
What makes a good map? How can you engage people with a map? How do you make a map that offers unexpected insights and captivating appeal? We have been working on something at Esri that we hope will answer these questions: Maps We Love.
Maps We Love is an ongoing project where you will see the best of what’s possible with ArcGIS. This is where you come for the inspiration, ideas, and information you need to turn your data into brilliant maps. We give you a behind-the-scenes look at important steps, plus resources (lots of links) so you can dig deeper into these topics. Maps We Love is designed to demystify mapping, to give you the confidence and assurance that you can make maps.Go to Maps We Love
The Amazon rainforest spans nine countries and millions of square kilometers, making it the largest tropical rainforest in the world. Since the 1960s, the rainforest has undergone significant deforestation. Current estimates indicate only about 80 percent of the original rainforest remains.
One of the most deforested regions is the Brazilian state of Rondônia. In 2011, a Brazilian judge prohibited the construction of a road that would have traveled through a large stretch of protected land in Rondônia, potentially causing even more deforestation.
In this project, you’ll use ArcMap to predict how much deforestation was prevented by prohibiting a proposed road. First, you’ll find the study area. Then, you’ll compare roads and deforestation to determine the pattern of existing deforestation, before applying your findings to the proposed road. Lastly, you’ll communicate the results to others.