Wednesday, July 24, 2013

AGOL Maps and Applications

The difference between web maps and applications (maps and apps) puzzled me at first but a little more exploring on the AGOL site has demystified this a bit.

The web map is just as it sounds, it is a base map with a set of layers that can be seen through a viewer or ArcGIS Explorer, provided you have shared the map service and the web map.

An application on the server side, on AGOL in this case, packages the map and adds some functionality and look and feel to the web map.  It also creates a single URL to the map and the added functionality so it is much easier to share and view.  The AGOL application can be viewed in any browser. 

It’s fairly easy to wrap an AGOL web map into an application.

Open the web map in AGOL and open the share option.  The share gives you a URL that links directly to the AGOL map viewer that you can share with people to view the map and the code for adding the map to an existing web site.  But you can also select Make a Web Application and chose from about 24 basic web application templates.  I have tried several of these web applications including the basic viewer, the social media, editing, and a few of the story telling web applications.  Most of the applications are configurable to some extent.

Here is a link to the state parcel stewardship that will open in the AGOL viewer 

and here is that same map in a basic viewer web application

Both links connect to maps with the same content; they are just wrapped differently.

The real deal with applications is mobile applications.  For these applications you don’t have to do anything on the server side other than have the web maps configured to be shared or edited, depending on your application.  The mobile application connects to the URL for the web map and the work is done on the mobile side.  There are some catches.  For the data collection application, I did set up a separate service so the edits would be made on a copy of the feature service and not on my original service. Also the data on the AGOL service has to be structured and configured so the mobile application recognizes the data fields.

There are a few remaining glitches.  If you are publishing a viewer to a data set that is updating frequently and you want to track status or updates on your desktop and push the updates to AGOL, make sure your services are all “awake”, sometimes there is a lag between when the service is over ridden and when the changes are reflected in updates. Another way to handle this is to do the edits on the AGOL site and then users will see changes more quickly.  You have to be wise about how you manage the sharing on the services and viewer if you want to have a few people edit the data but have everyone see the results. 

AGOL is not likely to replace your existing ArcGIS Server, but it can lighten the load.  It is a good place to set up some quick data publishing, to set up some relatively static views of the data, experiment with new or proposed data or map services, set up a story map about your organization, use web services for data collection within a defined organization, and to learn how web services work. 

There are emerging capabilities.  Such as using drop box to link to content or possibility to link to data downloads, additional templates and application offerings, expanded analysis tools like buffer and data summaries and analysis, and the ability to track credit consumption for each tool. 

The AGOL experience takes a little getting used to but it is a relatively painless way to gain familiarity with web publishing, web and feature services, and providing access to map content.  This is also a good way to gain familiarity with the use of web applications and available templates

Monday, July 1, 2013

AGOL, Web Services, and Mashups

My next foray with Arc GIS Online is to explore some the available web services that can be added to AGOL and how they might be used.  Many of the maps and web services I work with are national status maps or inventories.  The search for available services started when I wanted to add labels on county polygons for one of my web applications.

Web Services Terms
Skip this section if web services are second nature to you.  Some of the nuances among these terms are important to understand for AGOL.  WMS is a Web Map Service.  This is a completed map provided with symbology and scale visibilities, essentially providing an image of the map.  Within AGOL a single web service may have multiple layers that can be turned on and off, and have customized popups.  In AGOL these are added as A WMS OGC Web Service.

WFS is a Web Feature Service.  This service provides the actual features, not a map image of them.  Features can be analyzed, downloaded, added to a desktop canvas, and are typically provided in an extensible markup language (XML) for geography (GML).  This means the definitions of the features are provided and the features can be added to a variety of software platforms.  AGOL does not have the capability to add WFS, but links to the WFS for a feature could be added to the customized popup, if you wanted to provide information on the WFS address.

REST or RESTful Services is a Representational State Transfer (did that clarify the term?) and this is another standard or architecture for providing access to web served data and services.  In AGOL these services are added as ArcGIS Server Web Service.  The transparency and visibility ranges (minimum and maximum display scale) can be configured for Restful Services in AGOL.

There are many WMS, WFS, and REST Service available to supplement your AGOL map.  I did a web search from my browser, but there is also a search engine within the AGOL map to find available services. 

These are fairly easy to add to any map, just add data from the web and select the type of service.  The service adds fairly quickly, if you pick the right type.  After the service appears on your map, click on the service in the details information on the map viewer and the layers within that service can be added and configured individually. 

Since county labels were my first requirement I started with Tiger Web.

This WMS had exactly what I needed for state and county labels as well as American Indian Areas with labels.  School districts and federal congressional districts are also available along with many of the Census geography features. This service provides a lot of rich Census content as well and it is an easy way to display place names and geography with some population information.  The geography and the labels are offered separately and the labels scale nicely.  The WFS services on Tiger Web are really helpful to view your current Census geography with your local data sets on an ArcGIS desktop map canvas as well.  No need to download and re-project the Census geography files.  This is for desktop, not AGOL.

The National Map Web Services is another fairly easily navigated web site to find services.
This site has a good variety of imagery, elevation, and federally managed data sets available as WMS and WFS.  All of the links worked and the data added as advertised.

There are a lot of map and feature service available at the federal Geospatial Platform.  Finding the available WMS and WFS services is not particularly obvious at this site but a search for WMS found 26 results on the Geoplatform and 1,043 harvested items.  However, many of these did not work as advertised, some had data in them some did not, some were web services and some were viewers only, but it’s a start.  Many states also have some excellent web services.  Montana and Arkansas are two states I have used.

It is interesting to add the same data from different web service sources and see the differences in the representations.  State, county, and city boundaries have a variety of representations and all seem to be sourced differently.  I suspect as the use of the web services because more accepted there will more reliance in single authoritative representations of commonly used layers.