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Matt Sheehan
Matt Sheehan
Matt holds an MSc in Geography and GIS. He has been working with clients solving problems with GIS for over 17 years. Matt founded WebMapSolutions whose mission is to put innovative, intuitive GIS driven applications into the hands of new and existing users.

ArcGIS Online: Its Time to get Excited

November 6th, 2012 by Matt Sheehan

We’ve spent nearly a year working with ArcGIS Online. Our view is that it is a major step forward. We’ve been asked why we take this view. In short because this is a mapping platform like no other.

Mapping Platforms

Let’s start with what is a mapping platform. Put simply:

“A web mapping platform is a toolkit that helps you build a web mapping application.”

There are many such platforms available in the open source world, more details available at this link:

ArcGIS Online is Exciting

GIS has been a niche. From desktop to Web, it has been a technology and acronym that few understand. We have long hoped the use of the technology would broaden and that the acronym would be less used. Many GIS-focused organisations, including ESRI, have begun to change the language their externally facing folk now speak. This is in part due to ArcGIS Online. Web maps, which are the raw material of ArcGIS Online, have a very broad appeal. We can talk, and will in later posts, about intelligent maps, story maps. Maps and geo-data targeted at non-GIS users.

So yes, we see ArcGIS Online as very exciting.

Why ArcGIS Online

ArcGIS Online is different in many ways. First and foremost it is unique. No platform (that we know) is cloud based, hosted by a large organization and offers a such a dizzying array of features. Let’s wander through some of the benefits:

1) If you don’t have ArcGIS Server, now you can publish, view and interact with your geo-data. So shapefiles, KML, spreadsheets. These become interactive feature layers; meaning not only can you overlay them on basemaps, but interact with them. Click or tap a feature (polygon, line, point) and see its attributes. Last if you set up a hosted feature service, either directly in ArcGIS Online or in ArcMap, you can publish your shapefile and make it editable from applications.

2) Access – since the data you publish in ArcGIS Online is in the cloud, it is accessible from anywhere. So from home, office; from your iPad in the field.

3) Web maps published in ArcGIS Online can be embedded in many places; documents, spreadsheets etc. This broadens where and how geo-data can be shared

4) Portal – This is a big deal. Now data access can be controlled. Portal handles authentication, groups, private/public data. Now you can control who sees what in your organization. We’ve never had this capability before as part of a mapping platform.

5) If you have ArcGIS server, you still get the above benefits plus the ability to combine an array of geo-data with your ArcGIS Server endpoints

6) Ease of building mobile and web apps which access your data – ESRI are making it much easier to build applications to access and interact with your published ArcGIS Online maps. In the days when we only had ArcGIS Server, the (most popular) options available for accessing your data were the ADF viewer, Flex for ArcGIS viewer, and custom applications. Today we have ‘solution templates’ (more about these in a later post). These are Javascript applications which can be integrated into your organizations ArcGIS Online account, allowing easy interation with your published maps and data. These solution templates can be managed, and configured easily by ArcGIS Online administrators.

7) Targeting – One of the drivers behind ArcGIS Online and solution templates has been the ability to provide targeted maps and data. So away from the swiss army knife approach to application functionality. Targeted data, loaded by targeted applications. Whether it be mobile data collection by water utility workers, or an Idaho Transportation road closure story map. Now we can serve the right people, with the right data and application at the right time.

Those Pesky Credits?

One area of confusion are the credits attached to ArcGIS Online. No its not free, but tell me of any free hosted platforms. Without going into detail, any platform will cost money. ESRI have made ArcGIS Online inexpensive. True is has been a little confusing. But the benefits gained far out-way the cost. Here is more info about credits and an estimator:


As developers who work with location technology, we are very excited about ArcGIS Online. There is now the opportunity to expose and make useful the technology we love.

Just make sure you whisper the term GIS 🙂

Useful Links

What is ArcGIS Online?

Related posts:

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Category: Mobile ArcGIS

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