Authoring content for Web Maps

Looking for 10.3 or Pro content?

Documentation and other resources for this ArcGIS capability can be accessed from http://desktop.arcgis.com, a new site focused on ArcGIS for Desktop users. In about three weeks we will begin redirecting to that page. Documentation for 10.2 and earlier releases will continue to be accessible.

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Authoring content for Web Maps

Well-prepared geographic information is the lifeblood of Web Maps. The clarity of purpose and the quality of presentation of map, query, and image services make the difference between just another bad GIS map and a Web Map that people want to use to learn and to get their jobs done.

The first three quick links in this sequence on the mapping resource center were written to get people started successfully with the work of assembling Web Maps. The assumption was that the audience was only using-not publishing-the content needed to assemble Web Maps. Therefore, there were no instructions about how to refine or alter content. The reasoning is simple: the content should be well prepared before that audience finds it. This document and the next, dealing with designing content, are the keys to everyone's success with Web Maps.

This document is organized into four major sections:

Authoring useful services in ArcGIS Desktop

ArcGIS Desktop-ArcMap in particular-is the primary authoring environment for the services that become content items in ArcGIS Online. How you prepare your data and maps makes the difference between merely creating a conduit to your data that requires lots of effort for your users or a beneficial experience for people using your content.

Most people do not want to see your GIS data, at least not until after they have seen what it means in a Web Map or application that they believe to be useful. This can be challenging, because a great deal of GIS data is collected for the purposes of having a collection of data on a certain topic rather than to present a useful story on that topic. This means GIS data often needs to be transformed from a raw state to a consumable state prior to being served for use in a Web Map. Transforming your data into a state that exactly or closely represents how it will be consumed saves everyone time and money because the data will have the following characteristics:

  1. Be faster and easier to present.
  2. Require fewer computing resources to present and transfer.

With that as a practical rationale for presenting your content in a useful way, there are two areas to apply your efforts: designing your content and checking the quality of your efforts.

Design issues to consider

  1. Is the map service multi-scale?Online maps are multiscale. Thus, another way to ask this question is: Does your map display an appropriate level of content at each of the scales at which it is expected to be used? Generally, fewer features with smaller symbols and less complicated geometry should be shown at smaller map scales and progress to an appropriate amount of detail at the scales where users will accomplish their work. Drawing a dataset the same way at all scales.

  2. Is there data to support an informative Pop-up, and is it formatted to make it ready and easy to use in the ArcGIS Online Pop-up configuration environment? The Pop-up needs to be designed prior to serving the map. One important consideration is that it is not good practice to show a Pop-up that is the equivalent of the desktop ArcGIS Identify tool. That is what GIS data managers and GIS experts know how to use. That experience is not useful for anyone else. Instead, consider designing a Pop-up like you might design a slide in a presentation (i.e., with a minimum amount of content) and make it easy for the reader to find and focus on the important information. That means you may need to format the data or calculate new data fields that contain easy-to-understand depictions of your data. Also, hide any of the fields (except the Shape field, which is required by Pop-ups) that do not support the purpose of either the symbology, labels, or Pop-up content in your map.

  3. Is the content designed to work with a particular basemap? Design your map using the basemap you expect to create your Web Map with or that you are recommending to others to create their Web Maps with. This will ensure your content meshes in a useful way versus colliding in distracting ways.

  4. How many layers are in the map service you are authoring?Esri has a saying: "ArcView on the web". That to refers to a Web Map with more than a few layers, where it is expected that a user will turn the layers on and off to use the map. This is a poor practice for many reasons, including that it requires users to know about your data. They likely do not and do not want to-they are depending on you, the GIS people, to make it easy for them. Another issue is that such maps are complicated to do almost every task with. The alternative is to have a service for every layer in your database, and this is an equally poor practice, as it forces everyone to find all your related content before they can build Web Maps. Thus, the best practice is in the middle, where you'll have some services with just one layer in them and others with just a few closely related, interdependent layers. The goal is to be thematically consistent within a map service. Esri has created several prototype collections of content, including some for ocean use planning, where the featured content group can be filtered to show just map services. Look at these services and see how many layers there are and how they relate; this way, you can get a good idea of how to proceed.

  5. Have you chosen the best options for serving your map? (coming soon.)

Quality checking your content to ensure it is ready and will work properly for the people you've designed it for happens throughout the data preparation and publishing process. Try this sample Intelligent Map Checklist.

Authoring content in ArcGIS Desktop for Web Maps requires that you design your map with ArcGIS Online capabilities as design constraints. ArcGIS Online is not as complex or mature as a software environment. Thus, the more you know about what is possible to achieve using ArcGIS online, the easier it will be to design map documents that will be the basis of effective map services.

Presenting Content Effectively

Just like Web Maps, the titles, summaries, descriptions, and tags for the items or layers that are used to build Web Maps are very important. This section presents strategies to ensure your content is presented effectively so it will be well used. It is disheartening to put a week of effort into building a great dataset, publishing it in ArcGIS Online, and then checking weeks or months later to find that only three people have viewed it. That is also the definition of failure to meet an organizational mission. Your success is our goal in providing the following strategies.

Determine answers to the following questions and understand why the answers matter before you publish and begin the process of naming and describing content items:

  1. Will your content be available to the public or in a group that you or your organization controls access to? If public, then it is important that the name and summary convey what your content is and why, including who should find it useful.

  2. Is your content a single stand-alone item or part of a larger collection? This affects naming conventions; if your content is part of a collection, the names of all the items in the collections should have common elements, not just tags in common. The names should also differentiate the content. This is important; relying only on the use of groups in ArcGIS Online to denote a collection does not work when users search for content unless they search for a group first. If your content is part of a large collection (more than two Web Maps and six web service items), consider adding the type of content to the name to make it obvious to users. Web consumers need obvious visual information to proceed with using your content-otherwise, they tend to stop using your content. Collections may also include a variety of additional content types beyond services such as Web Map applications or map or layer packages. These should also be managed to be part of the collection, and one way to do that is to cross-reference the item details for related items within each content item's description.

  3. Does the thumbnail image for your content item look good? Hint: The default thumbnail is always inadequate. You will want to control this because it is your content item's first impression. Consumers of information products, including yours, buy (or buy into) them based on looks. Develop a strategy for your icons that could include different graphic effects for different types of content. The ArcGIS Online Help contains the detailed specification for the thumbnail image.

  4. Do you have a strategy for the tags you are choosing? Just using tags for your subject(s) and location is not usually enough. Consider ambiguity: one-word tags often mean something different to different communities of users. For instance, you could tag a map service of roads in Dallas, Texas, with "Roads, Dallas," "Dallas Roads," or "Dallas Road."

  5. Will users know any limitations of use for your item? For instance, does your item work well on a smart phone? Have you tried it? Web Maps work on all kinds of devices, and if your item is being shared with the public, it's a good idea to test the range of device types to avoid surprises. However, surprises in this case mean people are finding your content, which is good, and most issues are easy to fix and do not result in interruptions of service.

  6. Do you or your organization own the information you are publishing? If not, get permission if the content is not in the public domain and give credit to the owner or producer of that content.

  7. Who are you in ArcGIS Online? Your account details matter if you are sharing content. The default statement when a user clicks the link for your account is "This user has not provided any personal information."

    Based on that, why would anyone decide to depend on your content? Consider that it may be best to publish some content generically under an organizational pseudonym account rather than your individual account. If considering the idea of authoring as an organization, you may also find using a special organizational account called an ArcGIS Online subscription to be most useful.

  8. Most important: Did you create your Web Maps from map and image service items? The alternative to avoid is adding services to your Web Maps from their REST URLs. There is a logical progression of content in ArcGIS Online: REST URLs for services are the basis for service content items, which are the basis for Web Maps, which are the basis for Web Map applications. This is because service content items store bookmarks and Pop-ups and can be reused in any Web Map, and if the owner updates them, all the Web Maps immediately start using the update. The same is true for Web Maps within Web Map applications.

The ArcGIS Online Help has a good set of best practices that further elaborate on how to present your content via the item details. Your goal is to give people a reason to use and trust your or your organization's content.

Another useful resource is the ArcGIS Online blog, which frequently covers topics that support development of successful strategies for publishing and sharing your content.

Much of the information that appears in your item's details page is actually pulled from the source services that are often authored in ArcGIS Desktop. The next section describes how this works.

Authoring content and non-GIS data sources in ArcGIS Online

ArcGIS Online Help contains everything you need to get started adding data layers to your Web Maps.

(more coming soon)

Creating new editable layers

Try this tutorial that shows how to get started creating your own content in ArcGIS Online.

(more coming soon)