Friday, May 31, 2013

My first foray with ArcGIS Online

Now that the dust has settled and AGOL is almost old hat, it must be time to give a roll.  I started with a relatively simple idea for a web map and thought this would be a test and I know a lot of you are making the same start, because I see lots of maps on AGOL with names like test, test1, map1, first day, try this, etc.  

A few disclaimers, I am reasonably well versed in ArcGIS, working knowledge of spreadsheets but I don’t live there, extensive database knowledge, moderately knowledgeable about web map pages, although Karen and Jason do my heavy lifting, abandoned my inhouse server about 6 months ago, and moderately skeptical about service credits. Lindsay and Ken provided tips and tricks and debugging for some of my more stupid mistakes.  After about 16 hours, not all of it productive time, here are a few things I learned that might save you some time.

False Step 1 - Do not take your great looking desk top mxd with all of the symbology, layer files, and base maps that you use for your local analysis and editing and just push it to AGOL.  The idea that you can “simply” publish any mxd to an AGOL web page is sort of true, but this results in a lot of lost time for a really bad looking, under performing web map that you really didn’t want to use as a web product anyway.

Good Step 1 - Take the time to really get into your AGOL account.  Get your profile set up, establish the groups you want, add the icons, think about the key words, you are going to be using them a lot, so get a list you like.  Thinking time and image and icon prep is all worth it.  It might take you a few hours to get a good base established but it is time well spent.  Think about the pattern and style for user logins, they will be using them more than you think and should follow some pattern you can quickly recall.

Good Step 2 - Design an mxd for a web map, not your desktop but a web map, what do you want to show or not show what will be the information about that layer that you will want to see.  This took a bit to think through and had several false starts but I didn’t want to start with a template, for this experience I wanted to see what it looked like starting from scratch, or nearly so.

False Step 2 - Yep, the projection thing, seems like 100 years ago we were arm wrestling projections and coordinate systems and datums.  So now we are at the Web Mercator Auxiliary Sphere 2, or whatever, and yes you do use the project command or project tool, seems like the good ole days.  Of course you could “simply” geocode your data, but again I wanted to take my data and put it on AGOL. 

False Step 3 - Project your data BEFORE you build the mxd.  If you build an mxd, then project data, and relink your mxd to the newly projected data, some how the attributes never get to the AGOL site.  Sequence is important here, sort of like putting the targets down before the airplane flies over.

Good Step 3 - Fix all of the errors reported in the Analyze step.  Sure some of them are listed as minor or low level or insignificant, don’t believe it, they are checked for a reason and they will bite you at some point, just fix them.

Good Step 4 - Save at every opportunity.  You cannot save frequently enough.  Configure the pop up, save the pop up, save the map.  Change the transparency, save the map. Change the edit properties, save the map. And save the pop up information somewhere, even though you cannot actually cut and paste into the pop up configuration window, at least you will know what you did. And save the map again just to be sure.

False Step 4 - Don’t worry about how the html or web links are going to look, you can’t really change them anyway and the AGOL does a reasonable job of adding the “more info” link in the pop up, although it does not recognize ftp sites as web links and you cannot insert a field name into the custom configured link. 

Good Step 5 - Overwrite the service when you update the data.  Yes, you can do some editing to the data on the AGOL site, but then your desktop data is out of date. Just update it on the desktop and republish. The “overwrite service” option works pretty well, just remember that after you do overwrite, you have to re-share the feature service; I spent too much time “debugging” that.

In the end, I think the AGOL is a good deal.  I consumed 3 service credits messing around with multiple uploads and false starts, but learned a lot.  Check it out

I sense that one of the primary audiences for the AGOL will be the non-traditional GIS types who might have used Google fusion or some other quick web map tool, so my next experiments will be to see how simple the csv and Excel format are to use and to use the story map templates to build a web page.  I am curious how this experience will fit with my Google publishing experience.