We’ve been waxing lyrically about ArcGIS Online lately. People following the blog have asked why?
In short because we moved from reading about it to developing apps against it. After a decade of working directly against ArcIMS and ArcGIS (which don’t get us wrong we liked) this new platform has simplified everything.
Publishing Geo-Data in ArcGIS Online (Those Wonderful Feature Layers)
Before ArcGIS Online working with shapefiles was a pain. We are often asked; “how do we view our shapefiles on our iPad?”. Programmers used to spend countless hours writing code to load the shapefile, read it, display it. Then time improving performance, as the feature count grew. Make it interactive so clicking a feature gave attributes. More work. Oh, and combining shapefiles in different projections. Nightmare.
This is all now handled by ArcGIS Online. Shapefiles are converted to (interactive) Feature Layers. Joy. As is geo-data from other sources.
ArcGIS Online Web Maps
We’ve never much cared for the term mash-up. But often we build apps which combine data-sets; basemap, ArcGIS Server layers, maybe WMS weather data, multimedia elements. In the day this was all handled by the application. So developers had to write code which reached out and loaded multiple ArcGIS Server endpoints, WMS, other sources. Then within the application these were combined, and any issues handled. Those days are gone. Step forward the Web Map. Now geo-data is combined and issues dealt with from within ArcGIS Online (read that again). This data is published as a single Web Map. Developers lives just became so much easier. Now the app reaches out to a single source. Oh and clients get to pull the data together themselves; the data they want for the staff working with the map. Brilliant.
New Maps for a Wider Audience
So building mapping apps just became simpler. But that is more than just a cost saving to clients. Developers can now build a new array of apps; for traditional GIS and non-GIS users. Simple, focused apps targeted at a particular audience. We are moving away from swiss army type GIS apps. The ‘let’s throw as many tools into the app as possible’ approach, to simple apps providing simple workflows for specific uses.
Esri have coined the terms story maps and intelligent maps. These ideas are evolving. But maps tell stories. At their heart they are pictures; spatial indexes of information. Now we can easily share information about, let’s say, the plan for road improvements in Idaho, and when/where closures will occur.
Portal, Security, Privacy
Data access through Portal, public versus private data and security are all beautifully handled by ArcGIS Online. We liked Skye Perry’s (SSP Innovations) thoughts here
Mobile ArcGIS Online
So, as Web and Mobile ArcGIS developers we are big fans of ArcGIS Online. Much of our enthusiasm came from building a free ArcGIS Online app earlier this year; GeoMobile for ArcGIS Online
There remains a degree of uncertainty about ArcGIS Online. That is normal given its newness. But we are convinced and see it as a major step forward for both our existing and new clients. Get a free subscription and try it out.