Category Archives: mapping

Selecting Mapping Software

We are currently in the process of selecting a mapping service for our internship project. The goals is to map the various museums by country and possibly by region. Part of the final selection will be determined by what we want to accomplish through data visualization.

One of the George Mason interns Andris Straumanis started a Google spreadsheet to help determine what services are available and the pros and cons of each. The list included the following options:

  • Carto Engine
  • GeoDjango
  • ArcGIS
  • Google Maps
  • Google Fusion Tables
  • Tableau
  • Simply Analytics

The table lists cost (if any), data point possibilities, features, mobile capabilities, and restrictions. I also added columns for examples as a way to help visualize the capabilities of the different options. I used Google Fusion Tables for a digital project during my previous position so I created a sample or test with my data for museums in Denmark. I shared this example in the spreadsheet with a link and a screen capture. This Google spreadsheet helped us to communicate and collaborate virtually, a much-needed option with a virtual internship.

Google Fusion Example:

Testing the Denmark museum data in a Google Fusion Table
Testing the Denmark museum data in a Google Fusion Table

During our most recent conference call, we discussed the pros and cons of the suggested services. While there is a strong preference for Google Fusion Tables, we are waiting to get feedback from supervisor Brian Daniels. We want to confirm that this platform meets our data needs and that the logistics are in place for the Smithsonian to host this data output.

Benefits of Google Fusion Tables:

  • Created to simplify merging/fusing multiple tables;
  • Offer developers an API
  • Options to share and embed (Optional template to embed as an iframe on your own site)
  • Customize the Information Window
  • Search location with filters
  • Real-time collaboration (essential for our intern group)
  • Google Group for help
  • All steps can be completed inside own browser
  • Ability to include images
  • Ability to include information beyond museum name and location (e.g. museum description notes)

I have highlighted some of the benefits that stand out to me in terms of our project needs.

Carto for Mapping

Carto is definitely easier to use than other GIS tools like ArcGIS which I appreciated since my previous experience with GIS mapping has been limited to Google Maps, Google Fusion, and StoryMap. However, it is still more complex than other tools I have used so I appreciated the step-by-step guide directions on the course guide. The Carto website also has excellent and extensive guides to help users create and customize maps. Despite the lower threshold for entry, users still need some prior knowledge in dealing with GIS data. They must know that the datasets they use for the maps must be made of clean, tidy data that can be read by the tool. Although Carto began as a recent start-up, it sounds like they have sufficient funding to maintain and update the tool.

I’ve attached a handout I created for using Carto as a first-time user. The background information and steps are based on information from their website including online guides, online tech pieces, and my own experience as a first-time user of the service.

 Carto Handout