The Changing Face of the Map Maker

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In this essay, Chris Brown, the CEO of MangoMap, discusses how the accessibility of GIS and map making has changed.  

Who makes all the maps? That would be us GIS professionals right? Not anymore.

Let me begin by giving you a little context. I’m the CEO of the web map publication platform MangoMap. Our single-minded obsession is to reduce the cost and complexity of creating web maps and our target audience is primarily traditional users of GIS.

So now you know about me, let me share with you what I’ve been doing this week and how it relates to this article. I’ve been working preparing to update the content for the MangoMap website homepage, as part of this task I wanted to add some new customer testimonials so decided to delve into our analytics system to track down our currently most active users and ask them for a testimonial. The results that I discovered will likely surprise you, I know they surprised me!

Seeing as our target market is users of GIS (in the traditional sense) I was expecting the most active users to be GIS professionals like usual. So imagine my surprise when I learn that our most active users over the past few weeks and months weren’t mainly GIS professionals but instead were made up of a wide range of people from different professions including a radiologist, a pilot, a farmer and a risk analyst from an insurance company to name but a few.

I’m not surprised to see GIS being utilized in the medical, aviation or insurance industries but I was surprised to see professionals in these industries having the confidence to go it alone by sourcing data and producing web map visualizations themselves without leaning on the existing GIS capacity within their organization.

So this got me thinking about what’s changed. Why now do professionals that don’t have a background in mapping increasingly feel that they can tackle their primary GIS needs without assistance from the pros?

There isn’t a single advancement that we can point to that alone can explain this sea change, it’s the culmination of shifts in our industry on many fronts. It’s the availability of open datasets and easy to use tools that enable those datasets to be “mashed up” with tabular data that’s the mainstay of most data driven organizations.

It’s the increased awareness of the power of spatial visualizations in communicating narratives and patterns. It’s the web based tools that provide an easy point of distribution for those visualizations and an interface that’s accessible to all regardless of technical proficiency.

When you put all of these parts together this change in behaviour wasn’t just probable it was inevitable. As GIS professionals we should embrace this change and view it as an opportunity, in most cases these aren’t maps that in days gone by would have been made by us, they are maps that never would have been made at all.

Mango Map.
Mango Map.

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