June 19, 2009

Not really the Ten Commandments, but...

Somewhere between throwing a dart and coming up with a crazy list of criteria needed for reviewing online GIS web applications, I suppose it's time to show you where I'm coming from.

I'm bored of this:
and believe it or not, there is still a LOT of them out there.

But then again, there are some gorgeous sites out there as well with tons of functionality, new designs, colors that typical color-blind GIS people didn't put together... sites that are interesting and pleasing to the eye.

Is t
hat so hard to ask?!?

Throughout this blog I'll commend or criticize based on a number of factors:

1. Overall look and feel of the site

- Does it look pleasing to the eye or more like a dog's breakfast?
- Do the colors actually blend and match well or have they been put together by the same person in your office who also works on the flattening divisor defining a WGS-84 projection?
- Does it share the same common threads, values, color schemes, etc. as the corporate image? Or are you a one-off renegade department that has always wanted to stick-it-to-the-man by having your own identity? And if so, does it work?

2. Overall purpose of the site

- Is this a GIS website because your boss told you that "our department needs one"?

- Is this a GIS website because your ESRI Account Manager sold you on ArcIMS 10 years ago?
- Does it actually serve a purpose? Is there something beyond the simple point, click and “hey look - there's my house!!!” or “oooh… aerial photos”?

3. Data

- Is this 100% of your own data or are you also jumping on the bandwagon and using Google Maps? That’s fine – but is it more than just pin pricks on a map?

- Anyway to download / consume the data in any other way? Any instructions for that?
- Metadata? Ever heard of it?

4. Usability of the site

- Who is the audience?
- If the general public, is there *good* online help to guide people through the site?

- If specialist GIS folk, is there *good*
online help to guide people through the site?
- Is it a typical pan/zoom/identify site or do you roll differently and make every user go to the help because you make the zoom buttons different ‘just to be different’
- Is this a web mapping site or a GIS site? Do you know the difference?

5. Geek entities:

- Do you mention what’s running in the backroom powering this site? Do you care? Some people do and scream from their soapbox and some people don’t. I like knowing what is behind the scenes just like any other GIS geek.

6. Speed / Reliability

- Suggestion from a comment and I was going to put this on (and did mention it Twitter) but forgot to blog it. Speed is a huge factor in GIS web applications. People want their maps and they want them now! Nothing I hate more than watching a demo at a conference and the map just grinding away. I think about the poor guy at the local County office on a slow pipe trying to squeeze their maps through the firewall ...

- Reliability is a big question as well - I've seen plenty a website throw up Java Script errors left, right and center.
What else do you look for in a GIS Web Application?


  1. Hey, great idea for a blog, very interesting, there are so many things to look for in a good GIS web app. You've hit a lot of good ones, but what about speed!? This is a huge one for me and something I love about google maps and similar sites as opposed to IMS sites...do you cache or hit the server for data? I hate waiting!

  2. @Anon

    You are completely right - speed is a huge factor, as is reliability / bugs, etc. I'll keep this "Criteria" post live, so we can add to it over time.

  3. I really appreciate your critiquing various GIS sites. I'm interested in what you find across the web. I was looking at your profile and noticed that you don't say much about yourself. What are your credentials and experience in GIS that gives you a background from which to review these sites?

  4. When one is reviewing the work of others it can be beneficial to hide behind the curtain of anonymity. From my perspective, I am not worried about the credentials of the author of this blog: GIS Web Maps. This blog will be successful or not depending upon the knowledge and creativity that the author brings to the table. Thus far he/she has walked the walk while talking the talk.

    I am more interested in content than in pedigrees. I say review and write away. Your audience is watching... ;)