or was that ArcGIS Online? Either or, it’s not fully baked.

A few weeks ago, James Fee posted on the newly released Federal Geospatial Platform. He didn’t have very nice things to say about it:

So it is just like every other government portal, irrelevant to most people and has a quirky interface most users can’t figure out. These geo-government portals just remind me of a movie where they day keeps repeating.

The love for the application didn’t end at James’ post. Some of the comments were equally critical:

From DNF:

It seems yet another agency has fallen for an ESRI marketing pitch. *groan*

I have been testing ArcGIS Online for a couple of weeks now and think it was brought to market too soon and being pushed as the silver bullet to solve all data sharing problems without being feature complete. It does some things OK, but other things are way off the mark.

Authoritative Source

One of the big pushes being made is that the sharing of the data can be done by the authoritative source. when I do a search for New Jersey in the publicly accessible, I see a lot of results.

Authoritative Content?

The first two that catch my eyes are applications hosted by the New Jersey Office of GIS. But when looking at who there were posted by, esriPhiladelphia. Now those are just applications, and they are kind of dynamic and the URL’s are correct. But the scary thing in my opinion is when we start looking at static datasets that are uploaded. One in particular would be the NJ Evacuation Routes and Zones dataset.

JSkinn3 Rocking the Evacuation Routes

This is a dataset folks are going to be looking for when the excrement has hit the oscillator, they are going to see this and possible use it. There is a good chance that it may have been updated and what is here is no longer the correct representation.

I can hear the comments in advance;

  • There are ratings and people should take that into account when getting data. – No matter what you try, you can’t stop people from doing stupid things if they want to.
  • You can provide comments to direct people to the correct source of information. – So now we will be policing the environment as well as manage our normal data repositories…Good Times

Honestly, I have been using it to host data for non-work related projects so I don’t have to stand up a machine with GeoServer. But in both cases, I am not the data steward. I am a data consumer using someone else’s information taking advantage of the ease of publishing and squashing their authoritative source.

Back to the Silo

This leads back to a previous comment, ArcGIS Online is putting data back in a silo. It is a static snapshot of the data when it was exported from the source. Managing the data now becomes a manual process of exporting out of the data store and replacing the content in another environment. For small organizations that are the stewards of only a few datasets, that’s not an issue. Larger organizations that are stewards to many large datasets, this becomes an issue. I know we can publish a record in to our published map services, but what is the point when we have a record in our metadata clearinghouse.

No one likes metadata…

…but it has its purpose. Esri has adopted it’s own tag and description based metadata model in While that is easier to write, it leaves a lot of questions about the assumptions that went into building the dataset. One example would be from NJ’s School’s Shapefile. It would be pretty easy to upload the schools shapefile and put a brief description. But without some of the supporting information in the metadata, it would be easy to use it incorrectly. The FGDC is currently working on the new North American Profile of the ISO Geospatial metadata standard and it appears that ArcGIS Online has not incorporated any of upcoming (or current) metadata standards into consideration.

ArcGIS Online for Organizations

So most of my rants comments have been focused at the free to use ArcGIS Online and not referencing the platform (that I believe) is behind the Federal Geospatial Platform, ArcGIS Online for Organizations. I am hoping Esri is going to address some of issues and come up with some better functionality in the for-fee service.


Tinyplanet jumped into the fray between James and Dtwilder and asked the question:

…I agree that these government data portals are poorly designed, but what’s the alternative? How would you organize hundreds of geospatial datasets from a wide array of federal agencies for easy user access?…

There are a couple of options out there that I do believe do a good job at making the discovery of data a little bit better than the ArcGIS Online model.

Geoportal Toolkit – This is Esri’s open source application for managing, sharing and discovering geospatial data. The application allows for searching within the current metadata standard as well as spatial searches to limit the results.

GeoNetwork – I have not had the chance to play around with this framework, but some folks seem happy with the capabilities.

After thoughts – so there are options, but are they any better? I am not sure that they are. What is it that would make a site better or more usable? I think the last word in that sentence is one thing, Usable. Most of the sites out there, usability is an afterthought. Another enhancement I can think of is ease of discovery. Often the search capabilities suck and return results that don’t even come close to what you are looking for.

After-after thought – what do you think the chances are that ArcGIS Online for Organizations going to be ArcGIS Online Advanced and the free version will become ArcGIS Standard (or Basic).

4 thoughts on “ or was that ArcGIS Online? Either or, it’s not fully baked.

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