Research for Global Development

Getting started with Mapping and DataViz on the cheap


The right mapping tool will always depend on what sort of data you have and what you want to do with it.

Desktop Mapping– Great for producing top-notch cartography and performing advanced spatial analysis.

Commercial: ESRI is the “Microsoft” of the mapping world, and I mean that in a positive way. They produce software called ArcGIS which is the standard for desktop mapping. It normally costs a few thousand dollars but qualified non-profits can get it at an amazing markdown: only $100. The software has its quirks and a learning curve. Would recommend taking a two-day or a week long class with ESRI to get your head around it. They have a large community of users as well as sales and technical managers to assist. Harvard GIS also offers a nice free tutorial online that I’ve used to teach GIS before. For the final touch-ups, I recommend using a vector graphics editing software like Adobe Illustrator.

Open-Source: QGIS is quickly becoming the go-to open-source GIS application. It also can do similar advanced geoprocessing and spatial analysis techniques that ESRI can, but it’s not quite as polished and robust. GeoDA is another, particularly used for spatial econometric analysis looking at geographically weighted regression, spatial lags, etc. For the final polish on the maps, InkScape is one of the better open-source analogues to Adobe Illustrator.

 

Web Mapping – Great for engaging lots of users, making data available, and allowing for a much greater range of interactivity.

APIs: Pretty much everyone and their mom has a webmap API. ESRI, Google, Bing, Yahoo, MapQuest, and Ovi are the big commercial vendors. Others pull from large open-source mapping stacks using node.js, leaflet, mapnik, open layers, etc. These include MapBox, CartoDB, GeoCommons, among others. All of these, with restrictions on hosting, page views, etc, allow you to mash data on the web either posting your stuff to their servers or calling it from another server. Usually that means it has to be public, even if it’s not listed. Many of them also allow you to choose custom base map tiles, and increasingly people are using OpenStreetMap rather than commercially licensed map data (i.e. Google, Microsoft). Most of these web maps can be deployed quite easily with a tiny bit of pre-canned javascript from code playgrounds. Most can be embedded easily using iframes in any other website you want. Digging into the documentation for any of them will allow to expand their gestures, actions, and visuals.

If the above doesn’t make much sense, the best way to get started with web-mapping is probably Google. If you have a Google account, log in and go to: http://maps.google.com/maps/myplaces. From here you can start to draw points, lines and polygons. To do more, you can try Google spreadsheets or Google fusiontables to upload excel (or other tabular) data and map that. WordPress and other blog publishers often have map embeds as well.

 

Web Data Visualization

Check out Tableau Public, Many Eyes, Google Fusion Tables, among many many others… These are all free to use data visualization tools, many with handy interfaces and examples to help you along.  If you are feeling more ambitious processing.org, d3, Raphaël, paper.js, etc coding libraries are what many data artists out there are using to create some of the engaging and dynamic data visuals on the web.

Here’s a pretty nifty data visualization profiling various data visualization tools and libraries: http://selection.datavisualization.ch/

Comments or questions? Get in touch!

InterMedia

Getting started with Mapping and DataViz on the cheap


The right mapping tool will always depend on what sort of data you have and what you want to do with it.

Desktop Mapping– Great for producing top-notch cartography and performing advanced spatial analysis.

Commercial: ESRI is the “Microsoft” of the mapping world, and I mean that in a positive way. They produce software called ArcGIS which is the standard for desktop mapping. It normally costs a few thousand dollars but qualified non-profits can get it at an amazing markdown: only $100. The software has its quirks and a learning curve. Would recommend taking a two-day or a week long class with ESRI to get your head around it. They have a large community of users as well as sales and technical managers to assist. Harvard GIS also offers a nice free tutorial online that I’ve used to teach GIS before. For the final touch-ups, I recommend using a vector graphics editing software like Adobe Illustrator.

Open-Source: QGIS is quickly becoming the go-to open-source GIS application. It also can do similar advanced geoprocessing and spatial analysis techniques that ESRI can, but it’s not quite as polished and robust. GeoDA is another, particularly used for spatial econometric analysis looking at geographically weighted regression, spatial lags, etc. For the final polish on the maps, InkScape is one of the better open-source analogues to Adobe Illustrator.

 

Web Mapping – Great for engaging lots of users, making data available, and allowing for a much greater range of interactivity.

APIs: Pretty much everyone and their mom has a webmap API. ESRI, Google, Bing, Yahoo, MapQuest, and Ovi are the big commercial vendors. Others pull from large open-source mapping stacks using node.js, leaflet, mapnik, open layers, etc. These include MapBox, CartoDB, GeoCommons, among others. All of these, with restrictions on hosting, page views, etc, allow you to mash data on the web either posting your stuff to their servers or calling it from another server. Usually that means it has to be public, even if it’s not listed. Many of them also allow you to choose custom base map tiles, and increasingly people are using OpenStreetMap rather than commercially licensed map data (i.e. Google, Microsoft). Most of these web maps can be deployed quite easily with a tiny bit of pre-canned javascript from code playgrounds. Most can be embedded easily using iframes in any other website you want. Digging into the documentation for any of them will allow to expand their gestures, actions, and visuals.

If the above doesn’t make much sense, the best way to get started with web-mapping is probably Google. If you have a Google account, log in and go to: http://maps.google.com/maps/myplaces. From here you can start to draw points, lines and polygons. To do more, you can try Google spreadsheets or Google fusiontables to upload excel (or other tabular) data and map that. WordPress and other blog publishers often have map embeds as well.

 

Web Data Visualization

Check out Tableau Public, Many Eyes, Google Fusion Tables, among many many others… These are all free to use data visualization tools, many with handy interfaces and examples to help you along.  If you are feeling more ambitious processing.org, d3, Raphaël, paper.js, etc coding libraries are what many data artists out there are using to create some of the engaging and dynamic data visuals on the web.

Here’s a pretty nifty data visualization profiling various data visualization tools and libraries: http://selection.datavisualization.ch/

Comments or questions? Get in touch!

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