So I came into my email this morning to be greeted by this gem (minus the obvious modifications).
I really wish the marketing arm at Esri would back off and let the technical arm tell ArcGIS Online’s story. They do a much better job at it! James Fee off handedly mentioned it in his post Are There Any Surprises Left at the UC, he wants “break through the marketing speak”. I completely agree, once we got past the shiny graphics and contrived presentations, I got to see what ArcGIS Online could actually do. I admit, I have not been a fanboy of ArcGIS Online since the marketiceture was being shoved down our throats last fall. That being said, I have been participating in the Beta program and trying to give the system a fair chance. Once I got past the marketing speak and started getting my head around what ArcGIS Online actually is, I am seeing some of the utility in it. If you are heading out to the UC, do yourself a favor and track down some of the technical folks and stay away from the sales team, you’ll get a much better message.
For large organizations, (IMO) it is not the solution for everything. It is just another tool in the toolbox. When it comes to ArcGIS Online as a product, some things have changed, some haven’t.
When it comes right down to it, ArcGIS Online is still a data silo. You drop your data up there, it is now static content. If the data is used in a web map, it becomes a snapshot of the dataset when the web map was created. An API has been released to script data refreshes or push data into AGO. I think that’s pretty cool, but we are still going to have to extend our internal infrastructure with custom code or logic to keep the data “In the Cloud” up to date. But the question in my mind is; Why? Our existing infrastructure can share data via services from our geodatabase. If you go that route, ArcGIS Online just becomes a pointer to services hosted in our environment, think metadata portal.
ArcGIS Online for Organizations
More of my concerns were addressed when we started seeing what was under the hood in ArcGIS Online for Organizations. The groups within the organization allow for secure sharing of applications and information. We have been testing web-based editing of feature services in AGO and have gotten pretty good results. The security setup was quick and easy. We just grabbed one of the templates, did a little tweaking of field aliases and we had people editing the data in a few hours. In my opinion that is pretty big. It empowers users with no programming capabilities to collaborate on data projects. Nor did they have to wait for a person with specialized skills to whip something up for them.
I still have two concerns with this security model, but both can be addressed by policy;
- Application Security – people who might not be very technical are controlling the access to applications. When giving that permission to one of your organization’s users, you better make sure that the person is aware of what they are doing when putting something out in the wild (Think Spiderman, with great power comes great responsibility). Many Desktop GIS users have not had to think about that before.
- Keeping data fresh – I have already mentioned the silo, one way to store the data is in AGO. Another method is to point the application at a feature service hosted in your environment. The most current data lives on your infrastructure and is accessible to web and desktop users. Back to one source of the truth, AGO is only providing web templates and security in this scenario.
The roles are still pretty coarse, but are not showstoppers. Apply them with caution, it is pretty easy to have an OOPS and your secure data is in a web map discoverable by everyone.
Authoritative Source and Metadata
The Authoritative content concept is still an issue. It is the wild west when it comes to publishing things in ArcGIS Online. When you search for ‘New Jersey’ it still looks like esriPhiladelphia owns a bunch of our applications. But with a little digging you can find the ‘Authoritative Source’ for New Jersey’s GIS data. But it requires sifting through at least two pages of other listings.
I said it before and believe it now as much as ever; metadata sucks, but is a necessary evil. The simplified version of metadata in AGO is nice, but is not complete. When publishing some of New Jersey’s data I ended up pasting the full metadata description into the description (example). It works and makes sure the information stays with the feature service, pretty easy work around. I used the FGDC keywords as tags, so if a search was done for ‘njfw_boundaries‘ it would locate all the datasets.
The Missing Marketing Push
In my opinion, Esri missed the boat on providing more details on Spatial Data Server by shoving AGO down everyone’s throats. I think this is the coolest release that has come out at the 10.1 release. To use Esri’s own words:
- Simplified database connection experience
- Browsing and data discovery
- Provides simple mapping capabilities on databases
- Lightweight and very fast
It comes as part of the ArcGIS Server license and gives the ability to serve feature services (via a REST end point) leveraging spatial data types without the overhead of SDE or AGS. From the limited testing I have done, it is REALLY EFFING FAST and will support a bunch of our users.
So is ArcGIS Online a revolution or evolution, I don’t know. It does provide an additional tool to extend your GIS and put your data in more people’s hands. It gives some powerful capabilities to folks who may have been intimidated by GIS or the technology process before. But it is still young and maturing rapidly. I think we’ll be using it to extend our eGIS, but it will definitely not replace it.