May 31, 2010
Redefining the User Community
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Susan Smith - Managing Editor

by Susan Smith - Managing Editor
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Industry News
Redefining the User Community
By Susan Smith

Ever since its beginnings, GIS users have considered GIS to be the domain of professionals. It has been noted that GIS data is only as good as its availability and usefulness, and until recently it has been locked up in silos which have been difficult to access, and then only by the most knowledgeable GIS professionals.

Technologies have changed all that; in recent years, we've seen the advent of Google, of mobile mapping, in-car navigation and all types of uses of geospatial information that bring it to the person who most needs the information, regardless of their professional training.

ESRI's latest release last week of and ArcGIS Explorer Online address the need to bring GIS to a broader audience. A new browser-based version of ArcGIS Explorer, ArcGIS Explorer Online, also launches with the site and provides direct access to content.

According to Bernie Szukalski, ESRI technology evangelist, features ready-to-use and free applications that make it easy for people to leverage information that has been shared by ESRI, such as base maps, and content shared by users made possible with a JavaScript Web Mapping application built into for creating maps and mashups.

Another site that has evolved is ArcGIS, which is a place to discover content that is shared by the ESRI user community. For those looking for data on a certain area, the data can be searched for and used. This site is now being embedded into the user experience with the release of ArcGIS 10.

A free download product that has been around for awhile, ArcGIS Explorer for the desktop, has led to a new web version called ArcGIS Explorer Online. With ArcGIS Explorer Online users can use web resources and add in local content. It is tightly coupled with the ArcGIS Online repository. With ArcGIS Online you can save a map to your ArcGIS Online account, search for maps or add to a map, or connect with a specific GIS server and add in resources from that server. ArcGIS Online content can be accessed directly from within ArcGIS Explorer Online to create maps that can then be shared and consumed by a broad community of users, including the iPhone community.

“These two new apps represent an easy way for anybody, not just a GIS user, to start tapping into all these great base maps and all the great content that people will find there,” said Szukalski. “We've been helping people with the Tennessee flood response and also the oil spill and users have contributed content. We've also published that in an oil spill response group on ArcGIS Online. Had the oil spill occurred after this event, anybody could have gone to and opened one of these apps, searched for oil spill data and could've discovered these ready-to-use maps and services that they could just bring into the app. They could look at the data, save it and make their own maps with it. We're taking all this great content and making it much more widely available to anybody.”

Szukalski said there is a cloud aspect to it as well. As ESRI evolves the application, they will provide more service capabilities through the cloud, or services that ESRI manages in the cloud and provides access to for users.

“There are certain aspects of GIS done locally - editing data, for example. You're not going to do all that in the cloud,” said Szukalski. “But what makes sense especially in smaller user sites, is they have a great map that they want to make available to other users, but don't really understand how to set up the server infrastructure for support or IT staff doesn't know how to do that, so they want to outsource what they don't know how to do. One thing you'll be able to do when we ship ArcGIS 10 is able to create a map package. The map package will let you take the map and all the contents that were used to build the map, put it up in little packages and then you can set up in your ArcGIS Online account. In the future one of the options you might have is to check the box to say I'd like to make this a map service because I want to use it in web apps and also want to make it available to other users who are using other free apps or building their own custom web maps. ESRI can spin it up as a service for them.”

ESRI's direction for map content but also for Geoprocessing capabilities and GIS capabilities is to allow the user to offer maps or tools and publish them from their own servers or put them up into their ArcGIS Online account and have ESRI publish it on their own account.

Szukalski said that is a new website that becomes another component of the overall ArcGIS system. “When you think of the ArcGIS system what are the components, well we have ArcGIS Desktop for professionals, for mobile apps that can connect in the ArcGIS system, and we've got some ready-to-use products as well as some tips and APIs to help people to develop mobile apps, we've got lots of web apps and web technology which helps people do this. This is a web site that is also part of the system that's a place where people can begin making use of all this content.”

“Right now to access content you could use ArcGIS Desktop for it, but that's not for everybody,” said Szukalski. “You could leverage a web mapping app, you could build one on your own but not everyone is a programmer. What we're doing is finding an easy way for people to use this content by providing a built in app that lets people use it and work with it.”

What is the difference between and ArcGIS Online?

According to Szukalski, ArcGIS Online is a place where users (not just GIS users, but anyone) can find resources shared by ESRI and GIS users everywhere. It becomes an integrated part of your experience (like the Office Online metaphor I used), whether you are using one of the free, publicly available Web apps, or a professional GIS desktop. ArcGIS Online is a Web site where you can begin to experience online ArcGIS, via free and simple to use Web apps that let you use all the content that is shared there and out on the open Web. Intro to

Visitors to can access publicly available content without having to sign in. To take advantage of the extended capabilities of, such as uploading and sharing items, users can log in using their existing ESRI Global Account information.

Top News of the Week

Infoterra GmbH, the wholly-owned subsidiary of EADS Astrium that holds the exclusive commercial exploitation rights for the high-resolution radar satellite TerraSAR-X, has announced the first element of its TerraSAR-X ELEVATION product suite.

Featuring a 10m grid spacing and an absolute height accuracy of up to 5m, the TerraSAR-X ELEVATION DSM (digital surface model) is now operationally available for areas as small as only 500 sqkm, and up to full regional coverage, worldwide. Particularly the unique reliability of the weather-independent radar sensor makes this an ideal complement to the established Spot Infoterra portfolio of elevation data sets such as Reference 3D, based on SPOT HRS optical data.

MAPPS applauded the inclusion of a parcel geocoding provision providing for an 'early warning system' in S. 3217, the "Restoring American Financial Stability Act of 2010," that passed the U.S. Senate by a vote of 59-39.

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-- Susan Smith, Managing Editor.

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