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Embracing the Online Platform: Data Inclusion

Embracing the Online Platform: Data Inclusion

Today we are moving right along with our obsession with Embracing the Online Platform. So far, we have talked about why you should make the move to Web Apps and Web Maps. We have waxed poetic on your user's first introduction to your product, the Importance of the Interface.

Now what?

Well, now...we need to have a chat about the data that is included.

I know, I know. You are likely thinking that you know what data you will feature. This type of information is usually dictated by the project or circumstance surrounding the creation of this particular Web App of yours. I agree with you 110%. You do - or at least should - already have an idea of what will be available from the application or map.

With that said, have you given any thought to what lies outside of the box? When we are developing an application or reaching new feats in cartographic prowess, it is easy to get tunnel vision. We are so focused on what we are putting into this map - like that copy of the World_Domination_Extreme feature class rather than the out-dated World_Domination_Extreme_old feature class - and what the scope consists of - such as ensuring allowing the user to filter the key points of our plan - that there are sometimes things overlooked amidst the well-organized chaos. For instance, what data is going to help the end-user really understand why this master plan will succeed? Is the user expecting to see certain pieces of information? If so, how?

With those questions in mind, let us explore ways to get the most out of the data we include...

1. Make sure your prime-time data is actually ready for prime-time.

This should go without saying. If you are building a Web App/Map to show off your data, make sure the data you are putting on a pedestal is ready for that attention. Prior to launching, take time to ensure your spatial data can answer a few questions...

  • Is it located in the correct place on the map?
  • Are metadata and attributes filled out correctly and fully? If not, why?
  • Are there any attributes that could be added that would help the consumer better understand the data?
  • Is this information devoid of any typographic errors, ATUWND's (Acronyms That Users Will Not Decipher), proprietary information that should not be in the spotlight, etc.?

Schedule in a second or two to properly inspect the bones of this ship before pushing it out to sea. No matter how user-friendly and spectacular the product you create, your users are still there for the underlying data. We want to make sure that data is ready to shine.

2. Stay familiar wherever possible.

When your data is ready for the stage, ensure it is dressed to character. What does that mean? Well, if you are working with data that is usually symbolized a particular way, it should be shown that way when it reaches its final destination. This symbolization could be defined by your organization, the client, industry standards, etc. Regardless of the source, it is likely the end-user will be looking for that feature in the format they are used to seeing it - even if they do not realize it themselves.

For instance, if your map shows rivers as dotted red lines, the end-user may think they are looking at a desert until they decide to glance at the Legend. Not ideal.

If your product allows for customization on the user's part, that is going to be remarkably useful. However, when this data appears on the board prior to the user forcing their own artistic interpretation onto it, it should represent what it actually is intended warranting there are standards that apply to it.

3. Employ your data alongside outside resources.

Is your data already the cream of the crop? Want to make it even creamier? Employ it alongside outside resources.

I know that it is not always ideal to include your data in conjunction with third-party resources. However, it is also not always the most efficient use of time and resources to source that material yourself...unless, of course, you have interns. Then, it is fair game.

The types of data you include will depend on a number of factors - such as your own data, the purpose of the project, the client, the resourcefulness of said interns, etc. Information that typically adds an extra umph to your Web Map is data like additional basemaps and WMS support. For example, the NL Nature Atlas gives the user the power to define where they see their data. By offering standard basemaps in addition to the default, you give them the option to view points, polygons, and lines in a way that best suits the type of data at hand. Additionally, Integrated Guardian's ability to incorporate WMS (Web Mapping Services) support in its interface allows the user to view weather layers from organizations like NOAA and Environment Canada alongside their environmental data.

About This Series

These posts provide examples and reasoning for aspects that should be taken into consideration when building Web Applications and Web Maps. Other posts in this series discuss the benefits of the web, user interface features, types and quality of data included, advanced analytics, and reporting.

About the Applications

The below applications are being used to illustrate the concerns mentioned:

Integrated Guardian

Code-name Environmental Effects Data Management System, Integrated Guardian allows easy access to large volumes of past and current data collected for EEM programs. It is designed to be accessible from a web browser and does not require the use of a plug-in.

NCC's Newfoundland and Labrador Nature Atlas

Developed for the Nature Conservancy of Canada (NCC), the NL Nature Atlas is an online resource for 30+ maps on a variety of topics (e.g., Protected Areas, Rare and Special Plants, Human Footprint, etc.). Each map is embedded on the project's website here and does not require additional plug-ins for use.

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