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Wednesday, June 15, 2005

Mapping Web Sites

NYT/NSF Social Explorer, HUD, and the USGS sites had the most manipulable data for mapping. Google Maps had impressive speed and granularity, as well as colored satellite imagery, but it's function seems restricted to location. It seems impossible to apply any layers aside from plotting restaurants or types of businesses over the map. Therefore, the scope was far more limited than USGS, HUD, and NYT/NSF. I found it interesting that by selecting "maps" on the USGS site, I was led back to TerraServer. I liked the internal folder hierarchy of HUD, as it seemed very intuitive, yet also loaded with data. I had difficulty with ESRI's Geographic Network. This one seemed like a sort of pathfinder, or metageography site. Mapping abilities are minimal from the site directly, and selecting one of the links leads to a sort of bibliographic record, complete with some Dublin Core-like metadata. While both HUD and USGS had a lot to offer in map-creation, USGS's granularity lacked what HUD and NYT/NSF provided. I couldn't get closer than a county level. I would consider these last three sites to be GIS systems because of the ability to manipulate data in order to see correlations, but the functionality of the the other sites seemed too limited to me to be considered strong tools for GIS applications. Aside from that, Google Maps works great for locating an address and businesses near that address quickly. Overall, I think that HUD and NYT/NSF were most useful at a street level, and USGS was most useful at the county/regional level.


At 6:21 PM, Blogger salim said...

Like Ben, I have chosen to talk about all the websites in one place, rather than seperately so I compare and contrast them better--also I didn't realize how long this was, but this is partly because it's really six posts in one!

I like to first put these six mapping tools/sites into three categories to get a handle on the variety of tools available. Google and Terraserver appear to function as directional finding type of maps, similar to mapblast, except that they also include satellite imagery, if available. This is the first category or point-finders. Second, Social Explorer, USGS Atlas and HUD Houses & Communities are similar, trying to do similar things. They try to give the user many options to build your own map and help us try out some hypothesis based on data. These are maps that assist in answering social questions—lets call these social-mappers. Finally, There’s the Geography Network that sort of stands out on its own. I’ll comment on each of these categories in turn.

Of the two, I liked google/maps better. Why? Because, as Greg said in class 1, we bring in biases, and I am biased against maps that are not visually pleasing and in that I like cartography more than I like GIS. Google/maps are well designed and are stylized, i.e. there appears to have been some thought put into design and other map elements like font and attribute size (see how the larger road looks physically larger than then smaller road, as well as color coded differently?). While google/maps is a easy to use, does a good job in giving directions (check out it’s point to point directions finder), I have to reluctantly give Terraserver owned by Microsoft (grrrrrr!) credit when it’s due—their maps give topography information, which can be interesting, especially for non-urban areas. I looked for a topo map for Baxter State Park, and lo and behold, it found a slightly grainy version of it! So, each of this point-finders have their strengths.

This, I am sure is a favorite among human geographers that ask questions about a human condition or a hypothesis, and go out to prove or disprove it via maps. This definitely is a case where maps can be produced with highly political motives in mind. I like New York Time’s Social Explorer the best and the HUD one the worst of the three. Social Explorer does extremely well going to the census tract scale on a national basis and does some marvelous work focusing on New York State. I played around it with it and created maps in an animated slide show for population in New York City by boroughs and even finer levels of analysis. The social explorer also has a nice web-interface, friendly and fun to use and relatively intuitive and pleasing to the eye. Of the remaining two, The HUD site is by far the clunkiest. It also does not work in Mozilla! Its folder-based legend is not user-friendly and has a terrible base map. The site is also has limited economic indicators—and thus it is harder to ask social questions that often have economic underpinnings. I found the USGS National Atlas appears to have lots of data but the interface to play around with it is difficult. However it is better than the HUD site and with some manipulation (not very user friendly) I was able to get it to perform.

The Geography Network:
Like Ben, Elizabeth and Caroline have already commented, this website was difficult to navigate—which I suspect is because it is trying to be all things to all people. It is a conduit for many kinds of data: live, static, tables, maps etc. The biggest advantage of this website is that it does have some very good physical geography data (take a look at the content themes); it also has data available for you to download (in that sense it’s like a data clearing house) whereas the other sites are more like tools that allow you to make maps (much like bloggers allow you to self-publish). I also think this website is a bit specialized and perhaps a geologist might have a field day on this one! I was able to check out the ArcExplorer through this site—something Greg had mentioned in class.


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