Agencies Create Millions of Maps Using New Tool

Beta users are building between 4 million and 6 million maps each day in Esri's new cloud-based ArcGIS Online mapping tool, President Jack Dangermond said Wednesday.

Those beta users are largely federal, state and local government agencies that have blanket software license agreements with the geographic information systems company. Esri plans to launch a commercial version of the cloud service in six to eight weeks, Dangermond said during the company's Federal GIS conference.

Federal agencies have used non-cloud versions of Esri's ArcGIS software suite for years to build and manipulate maps that examine the relationship between different phenomenon such as breast cancer prevalence and soil toxins, or the availability of green vegetables and health.

Most ArcGIS maps are built with a set of global base maps that show topography, streets, minerals or some other major Earth feature. The mapmaker can then overlay some other element from a data set.

Some of the most active ArcGIS Online users are in the Interior, Agriculture and Transportation Departments as well as the Environmental Protection Agency and several intelligence agencies, Dangermond said.

As with most government information, it's been historically difficult to share government-created GIS maps widely. Typically GIS officials share maps on a one-off basis between each other or, more recently, through larger systems such as the Agriculture Department's portal, which relies on ArcGIS.

Dangermond envisions the new cloud-based ArcGIS Online functioning something like a Facebook for maps. Government, corporate and private users can make any of their maps publicly available for others to look at and build off, say by adding another layer of phenomena.

Every map includes metadata, which helps GIS professionals assess the map's quality. They also include a five-star rating system and user reviews that less tech savvy users can look to as a quality test, something like the rating system for Amazon sellers.

Users can limit who views more sensitive maps by only sharing them with a pre-set group or not sharing them at all, Dangermond said. Several government agencies also have moved the ArcGIS Online software stack from the Amazon cloud into their own private clouds so the maps can only be shared internally, he said.

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