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Monday, June 26, 2006

Social Explorer vs National Atlas Map Maker

For making a map of one's neighborhood, Social Explorer wins. Unlike National Atlas Map Maker (NAMM), Social Explorer (SE) lets one zoom in closely into a neighborhood (showing street names). The best aspects of SE: it lets you create a slideshow of maps, it lets you zoom in closely and creates reports about the area based on census data, and all-in-all, failry easy to use. Some downsides to SE: the find tool isn't very helpful, it doesn't allow you to put in your own layers, and when you pick from the different maps (such as maps by age or marital status) it isn't clear what the changes mean in the map.
As far as interactive maps, NAMM allows one to put many kinds of layers on theirs. It's major downside is that it doesn't allow for a close zoom-in of an area. The best aspect is that it allows for some interesting layers (Superfund sites and bat ranges), though it isn't always clear what the symbols mean for those layers even with the map key function. I came to like NAMM a lot because of the fascinating maps one could create with it. It is far more interactive than SE.
All-in-all, they're both great tools for specific needs. If I need a map of my neighborhood with some data, SE could make it while NAMM couldn't. If I need a map invasive species land cover in the entire lower 48 states, then NAMM would be the one to use.


At 5:40 PM, Blogger meridith said...

Well my first encounter with SE was not the best. I got an error message every time I tried to open the 2000 census map, so instead had to work with the 1990 census tracts map. Using the find feature I entered my address and quickly got a zoomed in view of my neighborhood with all the streets labeled and my addressed indicated with a pushpin icon. I could then pick various aspects of the census data to view as a choropleth map. The report feature seems especially useful, as it enables the user to look at the data they in which they are interested in a different way. The slide show feature would be good for presentations. It would also be neat if that function could be used to show chronological changes in an area for a particular aspect such as age or education. I found this site to be easy to use, and with adequate detail to be useful for looking at info about neighborhoods. It would be even better if you could add your own layers.
On NAMM I could easily locate WI using a drop down menu, but zooming in revealed very little info. I liked that you could easily add your own layers. On everything from the presence of American toads to arsenic in the ground water. I agree that is program is better suited for looking at larger areas, while SE is better for looking at basic census data in smaller areas.

At 6:21 PM, Blogger Paula said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

At 6:22 PM, Blogger Paula said...

I agree with parts of both Lia's and Meridith's posts. First encountering Social Explorer, I was frustrated that I couldn't get to the 2000 census tracts. I had to go to 1990 maps which could be very outdated and therefore not applicable to a possible report or analysis. While it is more detailed in regard to population statistics and area, the maps are very simple. They are easy to use as well, but seem limited in capabilities.

In comparison to NAMM, which I found more interesting, NAMM does not allow the closer looks at certain areas like SE does and some of the maps can be confusing with small bright red dots over/meshed with the bright red stars that are the states' capitals. However, if the capitals and cities are turned off, the possible maps of streams and waterbodies combined with the location of mudpuppies and treefrogs (both of which we should have in our vicinity) are fascinating. The user just needs to remember to turn off previous fields and to redraw the map. If that's not done, the resulting map can be really confusing.

At 11:22 PM, Blogger Lori said...

I found many of the same notabilities in the sites as already mentioned (varying geographic specificity, the robust-ness of National Atlas Map Maker's layer selection). I might additionally mention that I liked Social Explorer's 'report' option which lent it at least the appearance of soundness, and that NAMM reversed the now-familiar red-blue system in their "popular vote 2000" choropleth map.

Both sites seemed to assume the user's willingness to explore and experiment with tools, functions, and layers. The ability and desire to semi-purposefully browse (with sophisticated, if proscribed, expectations) also seems key. While this approach is increasingly how we interact with the online realm, I would not yet go so far as to call these applications universally accessible.

At 1:12 AM, Blogger Soren said...

The 2000 census data on SE did not work for me either. As others have pointed out, the slideshow and report options are nice features, as is the street level detail. I did notice that the granularity of data did not increase smoothly as I zoomed in- i.e. some small streets near my house had their names appear and disappear at progressively zoomed in levels- strange.
When I tried NAMM, initially the projection was a bit disorienting, with north seeming to lean North by Northwest. Where's Cary Grant when you need him? My other observations on the site match those already mentioned.
Neither site is outstanding, but both are still interesting and useful (IMHO).

At 9:33 AM, Blogger Todd M-A said...

Call me lucky, but I was able to access the 2000 census information without problem on SE. Other than that, my experiences are no different than those of the above listed posters. Here are some ramblings nevertheless: I found it a breeze to figure out information as to the ratio of men and women live in my area of Madison. I found the shades of color to be easier on my eyes than on the NAMM, as the contrast of the red, white and blue to be a bit overwhelming. Perhaps I was being overcome by the patriotism to the United States, or France, Norway, etc...
Anyway, back on topic. I found the drop down features of the NAMM very helpful and easy; there was no way to tell exactly where my "hood" was, so I could only look at the general direction. The areas are not as specific on the NAMM as well, so it looked as though this info is only on a county level, though it is difficult to tell as there are no boundary lines. On the other hand, the plethora of info was quite impressive.

At 11:41 AM, Blogger anne said...

I agree with Lori's statement about the color choices for the "popular vote 2000" choropleth map. By using the standard red/blue division but exchanging the typical definitions, the map is quite confusing at first glance. There is not a readily available key that defines the colors therefore unless one is familiar with the political breakdown of the country, it is difficult to gain anything from this map.

I also feel that SE would be easier to use for someone not familiar with the process of adding and subtracting layers to achieve a map representing the desired information. Because of its specific focus, the desired information is laid out in a more intuitive manor.

At 1:07 PM, Blogger Leah said...

The life of a Mac user is not always easy! I was only able to access NAMM on my laptop, the SE site would open but then "loaded" for a mighty long time without any obvious result.

I did not feel satisfied with the Help menu on NAMM. Some basic instructions such as how to toggle between layers were not obvious to me. I agree with Lori's comment that the site assumes the user will learn by experimenting. That could be a big turn off to many potential users.

Several people have already pointed out that NAMM does not zoom in to the neighborhood level, but I thought the range of data available in the regional/state level was impressive.

At 9:58 AM, Blogger Melissa said...

The thing that struck me most about both sites is the fact that someone could assume that they know an awful lot about a topic without really understanding what the map they are looking at actually says. There is a great deal of available data, but would the average user really know what they were plotting? Another issue I had, specifically with NAMM, is that you have to toggle between two places to actually see what the map key says--it's nice to have all those colorful choropleth options, but if you don't know what you're looking at without toggling back and forth, it gets pretty confusing. A positive note for NAMM, I really liked that when you go to the print view, the location of the source information was linked and available for analysis.


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