I've always been into spatial thinking and maps, and it's been a long time I dream of a tool/app that would allow me to have my own customized interactive maps. But now that I'm about to enter real estate development, it has become an absolute necessity.

I just discovered the world of GIS a couple hours ago, and it seems to allow way more than what I thought my needs would be. I'll take my time and learn as much as I can and need on my own, but to make it interesting and practical, I want to start addressing my initial requirements :

A tool that would allow me to create several layers on updated and detailed city maps, using polygons and paths, completed with my own customized pop-ups/data forms when I click or point these polygons. I would like to use/import data from google maps as well (city boundaries for instance). Example: For a given neighbourhood, I identify every plot/building with a polygon, and to each polygon I assign a customized data form: status, owner, price, type etc. It would allow me to spatialize the data gathered on the said neighbourhood and help me know better where to invest. The goal is to obtain an interactive map on which I can click and obtain plot by plot data (using colored polygons and popups/forms).

What would be the most user-friendly tool/software/app to address this need ? I'd help me target accurately my learning process.


3 Answers 3


For quick start you may look at NextGIS software stack. It includes:

The full list of software is here: http://nextgis.com/software/

This is Open source software. All applications have great integration with each other.

See documentation portal: http://docs.nextgis.com/index.html

Also NextGIS provides GIS ready geodata for you: https://data.nextgis.com

You may look at FOSS4G 2015 NextGIS software stack presentation. But it have great improvements since then.

Disclosure: I'm developer at NextGIS.


As with learning any new field, keep it simple and take small steps. Don't jump in and try to learn big stacks, spatial databases, web mapping and programming all in one go. You need to just get a feel for GIS software to begin with and let your knowledge grow a bit before branching out.

A good GIS package will provide a GUI on all the tools and is a good way to start getting to grips with the plethora of jargon. Learning about these will help you immensely with coding (whether SQL, R, Python, Javascript etc) because it will tell you where and what to search for in your chosen package's documentation (if you don't know what you're looking for... well... it's very difficult to find it!). So, I would start with QGIS simply because it is free (and good - though other excellent packages are out there). Then, when you know a bit more about GIS in general you can then investigate proprietary systems like ArcGIS etc. or other Open Source packages. Spend a bit of time with the GUIs (QGIS or otherwise) until you have some idea of the nuts and bolts of GIS. This will set you up very well whether you want to go into programming apps, web mapping or whatever.

Install a copy of QGIS (if you are on Windows, I recommend the osgeo4w installer) and then follow along with these tutorials.


Quite often you will need a combination of software to do what you want. Over time you will develop a 'toolbox' of software, skills and data sources to achieve what you need. For both my work and home projects I mostly use QGIS, R scripts and Shiny web apps depending on what the project is, but quite often project will use all of them for different parts.

QGIS is a great place to start, however it is worth knowing that it is only as good as the data you have to put in it. I'm not sure google makes property information available for querying, however use their base maps using a couple of plugins including QuickMapServices.

If you can't get data from google start looking is government open data and things like that. Some data file types to look for include, shapefiles, csv, geojson, mapinfo, WMS servers, etc.

I recently put together an R Shiny web app to help me in my search for a house which allows me to overlay planning information, property boundaries and easements on the one map. All the data was sourced from government WMS server which made it very easy to put together. However while I was looking to see what data was available I was heavily using QGIS to load, view and interrogate the data to develop my concept. The web app just allowed me to use it on any computer or phone.

The best way to get started with QGIS is to download a copy and do some online tutorials, there are heaps around depending on what you want to learn and what style works for you. I put together my own introduction to QGIS tutorial a few months ago if you are interested.

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