2015 in Review

The new year is only a couple of days away, and I thought it would be a good idea to review all the projects I worked on in 2015.

But instead of doing an article here, I utilized ESRI’s Story Map templates to walk you through all the places I’ve have the opportunity to work in.

To be honest, I didn’t go to all the places listed in my story map. For most, I simply created maps from the comfort of my home office. But I had the chance to visit Ethiopia (twice), Kenya, and Chile this year. And though it wasn’t for work, my husband and I visited Pacific City, Oregon as well.

How I Did It

In case you were wondering, utilizing ESRI’s Story Maps is fairly simply, but it does require an ESRI ArcGIS Online account. If you don’t have one, you can’t do it. But if you do, in a nutshell, here are the steps involved in creating an interactive story map:

  1. Log on to your ESRI ArcGIS Online account and create a new map. Choose a base map that best works with the data you intend to upload. For example, earlier this year, I created a Censorship on the Internet Story Map. Because of the “dark” subject matter, I went with the ESRI’s Dark Gray Canvas. It features white labels over gray continents on near black seas.
  2. Next, upload your data. You can upload a geodatabase or shapefiles, but your shapefiles will need to be in a zipped folder.
  3. Once the data is loaded, you’ll have to symbolize and configure any data pop-ups. ESRI makes this fairly simple, but if you don’t get it right the first time, you can always change the layer parameters by hovering on the layer name. When the edit icons appear, choose among them to change the symbology or functionality.
  4. If you are happy with how your map looks and functions, the next step is to save the map (title it, add tags, and describe the map) and set the sharing option to public.
  5. To create a Web Map, you can do this several ways and you can even create a Web Application (similar, but different). But for now, let’s keep it simple. With my project story map, I decided to host this on ESRI’s account server (my address is dms-usa.maps.arcgis.com). I also decided I wanted a simple Story Map that just walks people through the various projects I worked on for each month of 2015. Here are the steps I went through to create my story map:
  6. From the My Contents page, click on the ‘Create’ drop-down arrow, then click on ‘Apps’, and then finally on ‘Using a Template’.
  7. A pop-up window will appear called ‘Create a New Web App’ and it asks you “What do you want to do?” Below that, click on ‘Build a Story Map’.
  8. There are several option here. I went with the Story Map Journal because I like how it combines text, images, and the map in a vertical scroll. I could have went with the Story Map Tour, but I don’t have images for each of my projects other than the maps I created themselves, which I don’t want to share (because of client confidentiality concerns).
  9. Once you click on the template you want to use, you have a choice. You can either host it on ESRI’s server – the ‘CREATE APP’ option – or ‘DOWNLOAD’ the template html and javascript files and host it on your own server. I’ve done it both ways. Each is fairly simple to use, however, I like hosting it on my ESRI online account because then I can manage all my web maps via one interface (rather than keep track of the backend stuff on my server). So, for this exercise, I chose to ‘CREATE APP’.
  10. Fill in the title, tags (these help folks find your map), a summary of what your map conveys, and then specify where you want to save it (depending on how you have your account organized, just use the default account folder). You can use the same info you entered when you created your online map above.
  11. Once you click ‘DONE’, you are taken to the online Map Builder. Depending on which template you chose, you’ll be presented with several options. From here on out, it is fairly intuitive, but can get complicated. This is your chance to create your masterpiece! Take your time and utilize photos. You can save your work any time and no one sees anything until you make it public. For this story map, I went with a Floating Panel, I chose to use the online map I created above as my “main stage content”, and I customized each location based on the month I completed a project. Then I added text and pictures in the side panel. Alternatively, you can start out with an image or video. Get creative and make a story map that entices and intrigues by, well, telling a story!


Click through to visit the interactive map. You’ll get a chance to virtually travel the world with me.

Thanks for reading and Happy New Year!

Historic Landmarks Web Map


GIS Day 2014 is coming up, and in preparation, I set out for myself to create three web maps.

The first is a map showing the twenty-seven historic landmarks in Sonoma County. Below is a screen shot of the web map as viewed in Google Chrome. It has some nifty functionality such as the bookmarked Zoom locations, a nice grid display of the features on the left-hand side of the screen, and when you click on a point, you can drill down for more information on each locale.


I utilized ESRI’s Shortlist story map template which can be downloaded here. It was quite simple to make and didn’t require any specialized software what-so-ever. You do need an ArcGIS Online account. Go here to create one.

My next two projects utilizing ESRI’s templates will be more complicated and feature derived data products. Those should be fun and I’ll keep you posted once they are completed.

On a separate, but related note, did you notice I mentioned GIS Day? It’s coming up. Like, in about two months! For those of you in the north San Francisco Bay area, mark your calendars (November 19, 2014) and get ready for a fun and educational day at the Finley Center in Santa Rosa, CA.


Web Maps

As much as I love me some paper maps (see my previous post), most folks do not use them nearly as much as they used to.

I know I don’t.

With a smart phone in hand, there really is no excuse to scramble through your glove box looking for an out-of-date map. Or stop at a local store and buy a city map. For good or bad, the world we live in now includes digital maps.

And while those of us old-timers still appreciate a well-designed, ‘real’ map, web maps can do so much more.

You know how to access a web map. Those are everywhere and most of us have used Google, Yahoo, or Bing maps* to navigate our little slice of the world. But what if you wanted to show your data? How do you harness all that open-source goodness to show off your projects?

Google Maps

The ubiquitous Google provides the use of their map engine through the Google Map API. It is quite simple, and because of the proliferation of Google Earth (a desktop application), the data format widely used with Google Maps (.kml or .kmz) can easily be created or exported from many standard GIS software packages. Heck, if you are careful, you can just type the .kml file yourself. It really is that simple.

You’ll need several things to get started:

  1. Your data in .kml or .kmz format,
  2. A web page where you want to place your web map (and administrative access to that web page),
  3. A specific API key from Google,
  4. Time to write a bit of code.

That’s it. Once you have all those things in place, I guarantee you’ll have a map just like this one up and ready to go:

EDIT: Oops! I changed over to a new server and my JavaScript pluggins are on the blink. I will update soon!

Regardless, if you want to find out more on how to work with Google Map APIs, check out this site for a quick tutorial.

Open Layers (with GeoExt)

With as simple as Google Maps are, why would you not use it? Why are there so many other options?

One thing that Google likes more than anything else in the world is data. Specifically, your data. If you read the fine print when you sign up for a Google API key, you’ll see that once you accept their terms, your data is pretty much in the hands of Google to do as they please. Some folks may want to share their data that much.

For those folks unwilling to give Google full access to their database, there is Open Layers.

Open Layers is an open source API that allows anyone to use their base data as well as port over Google and Bing base maps. All for free. They do not require an access key. You have control over the javascripts and load them directly onto your website (rather than reference an online version as with the Google API), so you need never worry about a broken link because the API got upgraded. And it is just as simple to use as Google Maps.

You can check out quite a few examples here. As you peruse the simple examples, keep in mind, you can go a step further with Open Layers and use GeoExt. GeoExt, also open source, couples Open Layers with ExtJS, allowing for more customization.

If you want a more extensive tutorial on Open Layers visit Erik Hazzard’s site here. To find out more about GeoExt, just go to the source and start learning!


I just discovered Leaflet and I am quite impressed with what I’ve seen so far. Developed by Vladimir Agafonkin, an artist, the API’s look and feel is different…and maybe even better than Google Maps. That’s primarily because it is using OpenStreetMap‘s base maps that tend to use more vivid colors, but the coding does have some nifty short cuts that the other API’s just do not have (like adding map features with associated data with one line of code).

One thing to note, the API does relies on the Leaflet map script placed in the body (not the header) of your html as well as additions to your CSS. Just keep that in mind when building pages into automated coded websites (like any WordPress hosted site).

ArcGIS Online

For those of us who use ESRI products, ArcGIS Online feels like a home away from home. The terminology is similar to what we are used to and there’s very little file conversions we have to do to our geodatabases, shapefiles, and rasters. But, it is not as straight forward as the other examples listed above. Though you don’t need an ESRI license (at any level) to use ArcGIS Online, your options are limited without an ArcServer license. In addition, you are at the mercy of ESRI’s geoservers which can be slow for the likes of you and I.

Regardless of its drawbacks, ArcGIS Online provides a nifty platform to share you data, giving you access to cartography and analysis tools not available in most web mapping tools. You will need an ESRI global account to start, so I suggest signing up for one (it’s free). Once you’ve done that, create your masterpiece over on the ESRI site, then it is just a matter of embedding your map with a very small snippet of html code. Like this:

View Larger Map

(Yes, it takes a while to load.)

But! No Javascript necessary. The map is interactive (click on a line and get instant data). And if you click through on the ‘View Larger Map’ link, you’ll be taken to ArcGIS Online where you can explore much more.

Speaking of Much More…

Did you think that was it? There are many more web mapping options out there, but the above examples should get you started on simple web projects no matter your budget. If you have any questions on how to get your web map started, I would be more than happy to help.

EstherArt_BlkWritten by Esther Mandeno, owner of Digital Mapping Solutions

*I’m sure there are more commercial sites offering their map services.