I am a complete coding/mapping novice and I have no experience whatsoever in this field. However, I have had a really promising business idea which would be based on an online map/website.

My plan was to build a prototype of my idea and gather a bit of revenue to prove that the idea would work. With that evidence and a sound business plan, I could then approach a bank/start-up fund/etc to help me commission a professional developer to build the full online map/website.

However, I've started to do some reading on the subject and it is all incredibily detailed. I know all you guys have vast amounts of knowledge/experience - am I kidding myself that I could build a prototype? Or do you think I'll be able to pick up enough knowledge?

  • What if any programming languages are you comfortable with? And are you willing to spend any money developing your prototype? – Russell at ISC Oct 28 '14 at 15:17

The complexity of an online map is widely dependent on several things; first being what api/platform you want to use (CartoDB, ArcGIS Online, Google Maps, etc...).

What API/platform is best to use will be at least partially dependent on several other factors though, such as what licensing restrictions you can work within (ex: most of Google's api's generally say you can use it for free if it's under a certain number of api calls per day and if it's publicly available - not behind a pay wall).

Additionally, this is all determined by the level of complexity necessary within the map itself. If you are simply wanting to take some data (ex: a list of addresses) and put them on a basic, intuitive, webmap where people can zoom in and out and click on the points for more info, then that is not very complicated at all and you could completely do this yourself with pretty much any API/platform. However, if you are wanting to do on the fly sorting of data based on user input, that has some minor level of complexity in most APIs, but could still be figured out most likely. On the other hand, if you are trying to do some back-end on the fly processing (ex: when a user clicks on point X, it finds all the other businesses of type Y within # miles driving distance and sorts and color codes them based on user submitted review rankings). That starts getting a lot more involved. Please note, all of that is very much possible, but being able to write it yourself as a novice would involve a lot of time, trial, and error and/or limit you to certain APIs/platforms that are a bit easier for the specifically required functionality.

I know you don't want to give up too much information to protect your idea, I get that, and I hope this answer helps, but if more information was provided about the desired functionality of the resulting map, more detailed suggestions could be provided about which APIs/platforms may meet your needs best and then how complicated/easy it may be for a beginner to prototype.

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    Wonderful answer which tells the op how to fish rather than giving him a fish. We need more answers of this kind – Devdatta Tengshe Oct 28 '14 at 16:47
  • Thank you this is all really helpful. Essentially the website ranks certain businesses. Its not a new idea in itself but I want to apply this to a niche market I'm familiar with.Users would submit rates/reviews which would be stored on a database. In the background, I'd add more details about the business to complete its profile. Other users could then search different criteria to find the most suitable business for their needs. – Paul Robinson Nov 1 '14 at 9:29
  • The results would be displayed on a map. There would be some complexity because I'd like to visually compare different businesses too, but how that would look I'm not sure. I was planning to build the prototype for free before acquiring funding for the full website. Ideally the prototype would allow advertising because I need to demonstrate that the website is both useful to users and profitable to investors. – Paul Robinson Nov 1 '14 at 9:39
  • I'd definitely look at the Google Fusion Tables product at least for the prototype then. I don't know about all the licensing requirements for your use and it would be acceptable, but if it is usable, it would be a great way to cheaply build the prototype without having to build a big back-end database hosted somewhere, deal with an ASP, PHP, or similar page for submitting reviews, etc... You could just use the Fusion Tables API to submit reviews, and you can even link tables so you can have one for businesses and another for the reviews, and then just link the tables. Good luck. – John Nov 3 '14 at 14:40

As others have noted, the investment of time really depends on what you want your map to do. A complex, well-designed tool will require a similarly complex back end. The good news is that most of the available tools are highly scalable, meaning you can start for simple, free (or very cheap) optional and build up in the future.

If you have no background in programming I would recommend starting with a platform with a fairly graphical user interface, such as Google Maps, MapBox, or MangoMap.

You may also want to read through How to Start Web Mapping?

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Take a look at MangoMap, CartoDB and OpenGeo Suite.

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What about a free arcgisonline account, not exactly sure what you need here, but you could make a webmap and add data as a demo without any coding at all.

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There's quite a few applications out there as already mentioned in the other posts but StatPlanet is also quite decent.

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