September 06, 2010
Maps, Anyone?
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Susan Smith - Managing Editor

by Susan Smith - Managing Editor
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Industry News
Maps, Anyone?
By Susan Smith

Many organizations now recognize the value of the map as a business tool.

The map now involves a lot more players, not just professionals. For many years, users of maps have wanted to have some say in the generation of maps. The advent of NAVTEQ and TeleAtlas data used for Google Maps and Google Earth triggered awareness of the need to be able to submit user generated content (UGC) to those companies on a regular basis. No longer did we need to rely on TIGER maps and USGS maps that were eight years out of date. Maps could be real time.

The announcement of Esri's Community Maps Program this year at Esri UC is another contribution to that growth that was met with a great deal of interest by the geospatial community. The program allows organizations to contribute their own geographic data including imagery to ArcGIS Online basemaps which can then be shared with the geospatial user community. The maps can also be accessed from ArcGIS for iOS, ArcPad 10, ArcGIS Desktop 10, and free and open web mapping APIs from Esri. ArcGIS Online is a place where users (not just GIS users, but anyone) can find resources shared by ESRI and GIS users everywhere.

With ArcGIS Online, Esri's cloud offering, 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.

The deal is that anyone can access the community maps that are at and use them for GIS projects, including Web applications and mashups. 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.

The concept is not entirely new: OpenStreetMap (OSM) has been offering an open map program for some time now. The difference is that OpenStreetMap is not aimed specifically at the GIS community, but at the world community at large. Anyone who wants street maps and other data can get it, and anyone who wants to submit geographic data to OpenStreetMap can do so. The information is uploaded to OpenStreetMap's central database and can be edited by anyone who might know the area better, or have some additional information to impart. These maps can be used without the concern of legal restrictions. This has been especially helpful to drivers, bikers, and hikers, as well as for real estate purposes, locating homes that you might want to purchase, including all kinds of information such as purchase price, number of bedrooms and bathrooms and directions to the home.

According to Wikipedia, OpenStreetMap also does not limit the type of information people can add into the database, “as long as it is factually correct, verifiable and does not infringe on anyone else's copyright.”

The key differences that I can see between these two offerings are that 1) Community Maps are created using “authoritative data sources” that have been thoroughly researched and gleaned from multiple governmental and commercial data sources. The user-generated content that populates it is not offered by the entire global populace, as in the case of OSM. 2) Also, the data is housed in ArcGIS Online which provides a great, easily accessible repository of base maps (street maps, topo, aerial) and GIS data that client applications can pull down from the cloud and utilize. 3) The general population is not able to make changes or additions to the data. 4) Although you can use OSM on the Cloud, it looks like it doesn't have its own cloud offering.

User organizations that contribute geographic data to the Community Maps program will reap several benefits, according to the Esri press materials. The costs associated with distributing their own data and making it widely available will be eliminated. The program also decreases the costs associated with setting up and maintaining data by reducing labor costs and need for server capacity. The data is easily accessible and geared for most GIS web mapping projects.

Contributed data is integrated into online community maps such as World Topographic Map, World Street Map, and World Imagery. The type of data needed are detailed basemap data for cities or regions at 1:50,000 scale; detailed street map data at 1:50,000 scale or larger; and high-resolution imagery that is 1 meter or better, collected within the past three years. All provided data is verified to make sure it enhances existing data on a community map.

Esri does not take ownership of the map.

Building the Community

The applications that are born of these mapping systems will grow the community of users.

One example: earthmine has the same model as ArcGIS Online: a central data repository with ecosystems of client applications that allow you to pull data and use them in menus and different ways such as from ArcPad and iPhones.

An Esri partner, earthmine is a 3D mapping company with a 3D mapping system that employs stereophotogrammetric cameras, and some core technology which was licensed from the jet propulsion labs and was used in the Mars exploration vehicle, Rover.

According to John Ristevski, CEO of earthmine, the Rovers use the cameras to map out the terrain in front of them so they can navigate the Martian landscape. “We use them in a similar way to map out the open environment in 3D,” said Ristevski. “What we produce is a 3D coordinate for every pixel and every image, so the image is very high resolution. We also have that 3D backbone that allows you to map, measure and do all those metric type operations that you can't just do with imagery.”

earthmine has had its own workflows, development tools and software stack which included SDK for flash and web development and SDK for mobile development for some time now. They realized that a lot of people have existing workflows around ArcGIS Desktop, so they created an extension for ArcMap that allows people to view earthmine imagery right inside ArcMap and link that directly to their database.

“When you load up ArcMap you can see the map on one side and you can see the earthmine street level view on the other side. Inside the street level view you can also see the features from the geodatabase, and we showed a demo of taking some GIS data from San Diego and overlaying that on top of the earthmine imagery, which adds a real world context to the abstract geospatial information.”

earthmine imagery includes the street level view, it looks like a real street, and is very high resolution. A lot of ArcGIS online layers are mostly top down map views. earthmine imagery offers a complimentary view, said Ristevski. earthmine does not offer a large data library yet. Other third party data sources in ArcGIS Online include Bing Maps aerial, and OpenStreetMap. They do project specific data collection service, such as mapping 150 cities in France.

“I think the industry is going this way in general,” said Ristevski. “People want to use data in different ways no matter what the device is, the client app is or where it is. I think that flexibility is becoming important. We have a wide variety of customers, working with DOTs, homeland security projects, etc. Each one is different and they have some different needs like French Yellow Pages need for Flash.”

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