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Choosing a Platform to Support a Web B ased C ollaborative GIS Environment. Brian Aldrich Penn State University Advisor - Anthony Robinson. July 5, 2011. Overview. Purpose Objectives Background Methodology Creating User Personas Components to a Viable Solution

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Choosing a platform to support a web b ased c ollaborative gis environment

Choosing a Platform to Support a Web Based Collaborative GIS Environment

Brian Aldrich

Penn State University

Advisor - Anthony Robinson

July 5, 2011


  • Purpose

  • Objectives

  • Background

  • Methodology

  • Creating User Personas

  • Components to a Viable Solution

  • Conclusion and Further Research


  • To propose method for choosing a platform on which to build a geospatial collaboration portal

  • To define the term “Geospatial Collaboration Portal”

    • A web presence enabling users to discover, view, create, utilize and expose geospatial products and services (ESRI, 2007) while facilitating a collaborative environment to promote geospatial knowledge refinement, decision support, product design and training (MacEachren & Brewer, 2004).

  • To define a set of required components

    • Use these requirements to aid in choosing a platform


  • Establish a set of criteria with which we can compare multiple platforms to support a geospatial collaboration portal solution

  • Further define requirements through user engagement and the development of user personas

  • Compare existing platform solutions that meet the criteria and choose the best candidate

  • Propose the development of new, or use of existing components to include in the portal design solution to meet the usage scenarios outlined by each of the user personas


Relevant Terminology and Concepts

  • Web Portal: a single point of entry to content and functionality

    • Examples: Yahoo!, MSN, Google

  • Service Oriented Architecture (SOA)

  • Collaboration Portals

  • Geospatial Portal

  • Geocollaboration


Service Oriented Architecture

  • An architecture based on several design principles that can vary depending on the situation and the consultant. (Thomas Erl)

  • Relevant Design Concepts

    • loose coupling of services

      • the reduction of dependencies between services

    • service reusability

    • service abstraction

      • logic or code facilitating the service is hidden from the end user

    • service discovery


Collaboration Portals

  • Web 2.0

    • Self servicing lightweight software components with intuitive user interfaces

    • Collective intelligence and scalable services (O’Reilly, 2005)

    • Includes Social networking components such as knowledge bases, wikis, blogs, instant messaging, discussion boards

  • SOA and Web 2.0: Shared or Common Services

    • Facilitating the dissemination of various resources (Schroth & Janner, 2007)

  • Portlets

    • a.k.a. web parts, widgets, gadgets, modules, and snippets

  • Mashups

    • systems incorporating two or more existing web technologies to form a new system


The Geospatial Portal

  • “A human interface to a collection of online geospatial information resources, including data sets and services”(Open Geospatial Consortium, Inc., 2004)

  • ESRI claims a geospatial portal should enable users to:

    • Discover the geospatial data resources of others

    • View the geospatial data resources of others

    • Make maps combining GIS data produced by others

    • Make use of data services maintained by others

    • Expose their own geospatial data resources for discovery(Environmental Systems Research Institute, 2007)


The Geospatial Portal

  • Roadmap for the Modern Geospatial PlatformFederal Geographic Data Committee (FGDC), 2011

    • Data

    • Services

    • Applications

    • Shared infrastructure

FGDC Geospatial Platform Architecture


The Geospatial Portal

Geospatial Portal Reference ArchitectureOpen Geospatial Consortium (OGC)

  • portal services

    • User interface to content and services

  • portrayal services

    • support visualization of geospatial information

  • catalog services

    • allow users to classify, register, describe, search, maintain and access information, or metadata, about available resources

  • data services

    • enable users to interact with databases and other repositories through queries that return feature and attribute information


Geospatial Portal Examples

ArcGIS Online

Geospatial One Stop



  • Collaboration with geospatial information through geospatial technologies(MacEachren & Brewer, 2004).

  • Four key components:

  • Knowledge construction and refinement

  • Design

  • Decision Support

  • Training and Education



Geocollaboration Examples

  • Commercial: GeoViz (SAIC)


  • Open Source: GeoDeliberator (Cai & Yu, 2009)

    • A map viewer enabling the display of multiple raster and/or vector layers

    • Ability to display attribution and or map annotation along with the map

    • An area showing what users or user groups are online (presence awareness)

    • A record of all comments and annotation along with corresponding time-stamps



1 - User Panel

2 - Project Panel

3 - Map Panel

4 - Timeline

5 - Annotation Panel

GeoDeliberator; Cai, G., & Yu, B. (2009)


  • Hypothetical Request for Proposal (RFP)

    • High level requirements

      • an enterprise level solution into which it can integrate existing network based services

      • attract professionals as well as novices

      • enable organizations within the company to set up sub-sites or “communities” within the portal to cater to different types of activities within the agency

  • User Engagement

    • Interview potential users to gain insight into the users perspective

    • Develop user personas to represent the types of users interviewed

      • Abstract representations of real people with different characteristics, skills, responsibilities and personalities (Grudin & Pruitt, 2002)

Creating user personas
Creating User Personas

  • Develop user personas that would correspond to MacEachren & Brewers’ four components of geocollaboration

    • Knowledge construction and refinement

    • Design

    • Decision Support

    • Training and Education

  • Divide user-base into three experience levels on which to base your personas

    • Basic

    • Intermediate

    • Advanced

  • Creating user personas1
    Creating User Personas

    Basic User Example

    • Recent graduate with little or no professional GIS experience

    • Knowledge may be limited to activities such as finding their house with Google Earth and obtaining driving directions from Bing Maps.

    • New employee tasked with quickly finding a forum in which to publish their companies’ most recent maps for discovery by potential customers.

    • Would find any available self-help tools useful.

    • This user is most interested in the training and education component.

    Creating user personas2
    Creating User Personas

    Intermediate User Example

    • GIS Analyst with 5+ years experience

    • Possesses general GIS knowledge and is relatively familiar with common GIS tasks, like creating maps with multiple raster and or vector layers.

    • Often asked to submit work in an online environment requiring approval prior to publishing to a specific community of interest

    • They would regularly make use of search functionality to find the right forums in which to participate and also to find other sources from which to base his or her work.

    • This user would be primarily involved in knowledge construction and refinement as well as decision support.

    Creating user personas3
    Creating User Personas

    Advanced User Example

    • Professional GIS Specialist with 15+ years experience

    • Needs to set up a community in which he or she can perform a multitude of tasks

      • Set up an approval workflow allowing employees to utilize, approval and publishing of products created with ArcGIS software,

      • Set up and configure multiple map viewers for display of WMS feeds,

      • Analyze data real time with colleagues.

    • This user would be interested in the decision making and design aspects of MacEachren and Brewers geocollaboration environment.

    Components to a viable solution
    Components to a Viable Solution

    Elements of Geospatial Collaboration

    Collaborative shared services

    • Social networking features such as wikis, blogging, RSS, discussion boards and text chat

    • Portal services such as presence awareness, permissions and access management, directory services for locating people or groups and discovery services for searching content.

    • Portrayal services such as a map portrayal service and symbol and style management services.

    • Catalogue services enabling the publishing and searching of metadata

    • Data services enabling the querying of content in databases and other repositories.

    Components to a viable solution1
    Components to a Viable Solution

    Elements of Geospatial Collaboration

    The portal shouldenable users to share geospatial resources:

    • Discover resources through a comprehensive search functionality

    • View GIS data via an online map viewer

    • Create interactive maps with existing resources

    • Utilize products and services of others

    • Expose one’s own geospatial data and services.

    ESRI, 2007

    Components to a viable solution2
    Components to a Viable Solution

    Elements of Geospatial Collaboration

    • An application integration framework to enable dynamic integration of new services and content

    • Knowledge maintenance. Enable creation and publication of web content to develop online knowledge repositories that can be continuously updated through a content management system.

    • Collaborative design capability. Enable the design of systems for use through interactive development and collaboration.

    • Decision support system. Enable users to collaborate using online mapping functionality to facilitate decision making with the use of geospatial data.

    • Facilitation of training and education.Provide access to self-help material such as tutorials, glossaries, training presentations and videos

    Components to a viable solution3
    Components to a Viable Solution

    User Needs and Expectations

    Versatile, customizable map viewer(s)

    • Provide options for basic, average and advanced end users

    • Enable simple display as wellas analysis capability

    Components to a viable solution4
    Components to a Viable Solution

    User Needs and Expectations

    Geospatial Product Workflow

    • Enable means to submit, approve, and publish map documents or other geospatial products for public consumption.

    • Enable email notifications for approval and submittal

    Components to a viable solution5
    Components to a Viable Solution

    User Needs and Expectations

    Application Development Framework

    • Example: ESRI’s Web ADF, which can be incorporated into any .NET or Java IDE (Integrated Development Environment)

    • Designated users with administrative access to the system would be able to develop their own ArcGIS compatible web applications

    Components to a viable solution6
    Components to a Viable Solution

    Evaluating the Options

    • Score candidate platforms against established criteria using a matrix representing functionality

      • Wikipedia example:

    • Assign a score of between zero and five to each component of a platform to rate how well it meets the requirements

    Scoring system for rating suitability of a platform for geospatial collaboration (based on Nielsen, 1994)

    Project plan
    Project Plan

    • Research possible support platforms that meet the general requirements put forth in the hypothetical RFP.

      • Complete by 7/20/2011

    • Choose 3 best candidate platforms meeting as many of the geospatial collaboration portal requirements as possible.

      • Complete by 7/27/2011

    • Create comparison matrix and score platforms based on suitability. Choose the platform with the highest score.

      • Complete by 8/3/2011

    • Propose components or design ideas to meet user personas.

      • Complete by 8/17/2011

    • Present results at GIS in the Rockies Conference

      • Denver, CO - 8/31/2011 – 9/1/2011


    • A geospatial collaboration portal is a web presence enabling users to discover, view, create, utilize and expose geospatial products and services while facilitating a collaborative environment to promote geospatial knowledge refinement, decision support, product design and training.

    • By combining the results of research performed on collaboration portals, geospatial portals and geocollaboration, this study has proposed a set of core components that should be considered in the planning and design of a geospatial collaboration portal

    • A method has been proposed to aid in the selection of a platform to support the portal that can be applied to various scenarios

    Further research
    Further Research

    • Research in developing a set of universal standards is recommended.

    • Further research in the use of open source solutions such as OpenLayers along with proprietary enterprise web collaboration platforms

    • Research in incorporating more powerful analytical tools to enable collaborative visual and geospatial analysis in a web portal

    • Research development of GIS User Personas for general use


    • Cai, G., & Yu, B. (2009). Spatial Annotation Technology for Public Deliberation. Transactions in GIS, 13(1), 123-146.

    • Environmental Systems Research Institute. (2007). Geospatial Portal Technology. ESRI.

    • Erl, T. (2007). An Introduction to Service Oriented Computing. Retrieved June 2, 2011, from What is SOA?:

    • Federal Geographic Data Committee; US Department of the Interior. (2011, March). Modernizing Roadmap for the Geospatial Platform. Retrieved from Geospatial Platform:

    • MacEachren, A. M., & Brewer, I. (2004). Developing a Conceptual Framework for Visually-Enabled Geocollaboration. International Journal of Geographic Information Science, vol. 18, no. 1, pp. 1-34.

    • Nielsen, J. (1994). Enhancing the Explanatory Power of Usability Heuristics. Human Factors in Computing Systems, (pp. 152-153). Boston.

    • Open Geospatial Consortium, Inc. (2004, July 2). Geospatial Portal Reference Architecture. Retrieved from Open Geospatial Consortium:

    • O'Reilly, T. (2005, September 30). What is Web 2.0. Retrieved May 16, 2011, from O'Reilly:

    • Schroth, C., & Janner, T. (2007). Web 2.0 and SOA: Converging Concepts Enabling the Internet of Services. IT Professional, 9(3), 36-41.