I am endeavouring to convince others in my organisation that GIS tools, in particular digitising tools, CAN be used by the general public and we should promote their use instead of using paper maps. This would save money (postal fees) and time (the time it takes to post maps) and I suppose it's better for environment (not using paper).

The counter argument is that people feel more at home with a pen/pencil and sketch out areas/polygons etc on a paper map, they also tend to be more accurate. My business requires applicants to be fairly accurate with sketching out boundaries against a background map.

What do you think I can do to persuade those disbelievers? :) How can we improve sketching tools for non-GIS users so they make accurate sketches on maps. What tips/techniques do you know of, have you faced this problem yourself?? Are we doomed to using paper maps for ever more!? Your thoughts are most welcome.

PS - the GIS application is likely to be web based and open to the general public. Probable tech would be ESRI Javascript API - with cached up, optomised map services, sensible scale levels and clear symbology etc.


Is it really necessary to oppose both solutions, and choose between them?

Some users feel better with paper, some others with a GIS. It depends on their skills, what they need to do, if they have a computer (with Internet), their mood, and certainly many other implicit factors we cannot guess.

My advice: try to convince that both solutions should be proposed to the users, see which one they use, how much it costs, and the answer to your question will emerge from their usage !

| improve this answer | |
  • That's something that I have suggested as I think it's a bit risky just to ditch "the old fashioned" method. It would certainly be interesting to see the usage stats on that. – Vidar Nov 5 '10 at 12:36
  • 1
    We (GIS pros) should be careful with so-called "old fashioned" methods. The "good" solution can sometimes be the "old fashioned" ones. The perception from user's point of view can be quite different from ours. Our work has really nothing to do with fashion, see gis.stackexchange.com/questions/2264/… – julien Nov 5 '10 at 13:11
  • OK - bad choice of words - change "old fashioned" to "analogue" :) my main motivation is not really what happens to be coolest techy type thing to do, but more of how can we as users and organsiations be more productive and efficient using today's technology. – Vidar Nov 5 '10 at 13:19
  • OK too! We have to struggle against these guys that try to sell so-called fashion-new-technologies-2.0 and forget techno exist only to make life easier :-) – julien Nov 5 '10 at 13:42
  • 2
    I once spent a few hours creating a quality map to a friend's fortieth birthday bash. Nice clear fonts and arrows, driving directions and distances, contours, watercourses, orthophoto background, the full treatment. I printed the final draft and sat back with a satisified smile. It was more than a map, this was cartography. And then I slowly realised that for the purpose at hand -- helping people find a party -- the quickly sketched black marker on a napkin model I started with, was much better suited to the task. – matt wilkie Apr 27 '11 at 15:30

As other people have said, I don't think that you can rule out either case. I think that the solution depends on:

  1. The users. Are they comfortable with the tech or not.
  2. The Use case. Are they in the field in an area without network connectivity or not conducive to bringing expensive tech.
  3. The solution/app are people still building ArcMap on a Web page for non GIS users, or is it Googley simple?

One interesting solution from the OpenStreetMap community that combines analog and digital tech is WalkingPapers. You use a Web map to zoom to the area of interest and then print out a paper map that contains a '3D barcode'. You then draw your features on the paper copy and send it to whoever wants it. This person then scans the paper and then uploads it to a server where it is automatically georeferenced based on the data in the barcode. A person can then pull up the georeferenced image in the online OSM editor Potlatch and trace the new features.

This solution has OpenStreetMap baked into it, but this same concept could be applied to a stand-along app (OpenSource or proprietary).

| improve this answer | |

I think the winner between on screen digitizing and sketching on a piece of paper depends a lot. It is possible to make a lot more precise and accurate digitizing on screen than on paper with the right background maps and the right tools. But I understand what you meen by saying that it tends to be more precise on paper.

To get the good accuracy on screen, demands good tools for zooming and maybe changing background map during digitizing. Smart snapping functionality will probably help too. As I understand it you are dealing with a public audience that maybe only will use this tool once or twice. So the hard thing will be to make those tools more or less self instructing and very easy to use. If the digitizing will be made with static zooming without snapping it will probably be a quite rough sketch and the sketch on paper arguments gets stronger.

So, my point is that finding very easy to use but powerful tools for helping in digitizing is needed. To make the tool easy to use enough they will probably need to be designed for just that use case, like the snapping tool shall snap to relevant background data and maybe prioritize if multiple snapping possibilities.

I also think the zooming part is quite important. Maybe the closer up tiles should be loaded before needed so it is possible to zoom in and out during digitizing smooth and fast without waiting for some downloading in the background.

Just some thoughts without knowing.


| improve this answer | |
  • Really interesting comments and thoughts there Nicklas - many thanks for your time on that! – Vidar Nov 5 '10 at 11:24
  • Maybe default snapping for different contexts? The idea is quite good, actually. Parcels that always snap to each other and the block limits, harbors that always snap to shorelines, etc... – George Silva Nov 5 '10 at 15:50

I am not sure if the impact on the environmnet would be less with using an online application. Based on my own experiance people will likely print out the digital version, draw their design on the paper then replicate it on the digital map.

How many users are we talking about? In our company of about 120, I usually send people a PDF map then let them use whatever tools they want to draw the features on the map. Some use the tools in Acrobat, others like to print the map out, draw features on the copy then scan to PDF and e-mail. Doing it this way creates less work for me as i don't need to scan them on my end. (also no money spent on postage). Images that come back contain comments and drawn features and the format is PDF so I simply convert to image in Arobat and geo-reference and digitize. This takes little time and is fairly accurate since i am geo-referencing to same data.

Of course having 100's of users submitting data this way would not be realistic. An online application, training and regular workshops to maintain standards would be necessary.

| improve this answer | |
  • Ahhh, utilising PDF tech, something I hadn't really considered. Interesting ideas there. – Vidar Nov 5 '10 at 13:14
  • 1
    I have terrago publisher for some added pdf capability but the pdf in armap is an incredible techno you should look closer at. – Brad Nesom Nov 5 '10 at 14:35
  • 1
    I should have mentioned, forget the default ArcGIS PDF converter. It just does not work beyond simple vector maps. This will sound like a step backwards but works every time - convert to TIFF then using Acrobat 8 or better convert that TIFF to PDF. I've been doing this for years without any issues. Files are relatively small (much smaller then default PDF from ArcGIS) and clean. It has to be a good rendering engine, like Adobe Acrobat, NitroPDF for example does not work, unless you use the new beta 7 Nitro reader which has an overhauled rendering engine. (It's also free) – Jakub Sisak GeoGraphics Nov 5 '10 at 15:58
  • +1 for that one Brad. How large are the files if you have raster layers, say high res imagery. Is the tool worth $2,754.00 + maintenance? How about importing features back to ArcGIS? Is that possible? – Jakub Sisak GeoGraphics Nov 5 '10 at 16:04

In case the application end users would use is a map viewer inserted in a web browser (OpenLayers, ESRI Javascript API... even Flash based), I would give the following arguments:

  • Many people is already used to tools - or at least environments - like these (Google Maps, for instance).
  • End users do not have to install any new application: just a modern web browser is needed. There is no need to download any application, no DLL hell...

Besides, I would find success stories of web based map GIS systems used by general public in your country. I live in northwest Spain, and here there are some web based GIS systems that are very used by general public like SIGPAC, SITGA or Bantegal.

| improve this answer | |

Maybe we need digitizing tutor websites analogous to the many typing tutor sites. Typing is also a hurdle for many in the general public.

| improve this answer | |

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.