The Cheese Gets Moved Again (Upcoming Changes to Some Online Mapping Apps)

The evolution of GIS and web technologies continues to move at a breakneck pace.  Every change made by large technology corporations impacts millions of users worldwide.  Technologies get developed and promoted then fall out of favor (eliminated/deprecated) for new technologies.  The most unfortunate part of that cycle is practitioners who are tasked with providing services are squeezed to support users.  Displaying mapped data online is one of those sectors that has been greatly impacted by defacto standards being superseded by new technologies. 

A few examples impacting online mapping include:

  • Microsoft .NET ADF (by esri) – deprecated 2010;
  • Flash/Flex (by Adobe) – deprecated 2011;
  • Silverlight (by Microsoft) – deprecated 2011;

Each of these technologies was heavily used to create online mapping applications by companies and governments.  Many of those applications are still online with no immediate replacement in sight.  Applications using esri's .NET ADF and Microsoft Silverlight were developed years ago by Richland County and are still, barely, alive.  To test their functionality, try to access your favorite GIS website using an iPad.  iPads have become ubiquitous but do not support Flash or Silverlight.  Thus, these mapping sites are useless to a growing user base. 

Unfortunately, we now have to add Google Maps Engine to the above list.  As with technologies by esri, Adobe, and Microsoft, the Maps Engine platform has been deprecated by Google.  Richland County has been using Maps Engine for several internal and internet applications (http://www.richlandmaps.com/apps/gmap/).  While these projects have been VERY successful, the cheese has been moved again.  Such changes are announced without fanfare but impact many users.  The message Richland County staff recently received when logging on to our server stated:

 

Practitioners can get angry all over again or take advantage of another forced change in direction.  We choose the later.  As more geospatial data are becoming available via live web services, we can remove ourselves from the endless cycle of downloading data from other sources and converting them for our applications.  Richland County has provided free web mapping services for several years (http://www.richlandmaps.com/content/gis-resources).  Now, many Federal and State agencies are doing the same.  Furthermore, commercial sources of mapped data are exploding.  The use of Google maps, Zillow, MapQuest and others have become standard among consumers for various purposes.  

Internal projects have suffered limited results as much effort has been expended recreating internet browsing applications.  Considering the above circumstances, Richland County GIS is starting to refocus our efforts to provide greater service to thematic departments in leveraging GIS technology in business operations.  GIS is now the foundation of our joint City-County 911 system, the new land development permitting and inspections platform, and automated vehicle location (AVL) system.  Consumers and professionals in the community have access to tremendous mapping resources provided by many private and public entities.  Succinctly, we should not try to replicate all of these available resources and cannot be all things to all users.  We need to concentrate our efforts in assisting other departments and improving operations for citizen service. 

As our latest online mapping applications die by technology deprecation, we will provide access to County geo data via existing templates provided by our GIS vendor.  These templates support mapping functionality and links to non-County data sources.  Form and function change with every new mapping tool but basic access to County property boundaries is the primary objective of our online mapping.  As technology changes, we must adapt.  The cheese moves...

[May 4, 2015]

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