Doesn’t it seem like the pace of life is getting faster and faster, and that technology is at least supporting this change, if not causing it? With every time-saving productivity gain that technology provides, the expectations for the speed and the amount of work to be completed in any time frame seem to just increase.  Within the field of GIS (Geographic Information Systems), this expectation is being driven by consumers that want to search for and view information in a spatial context (a map). In the world of media mashups, the publishing of new GIS data and applications is expected in a few weeks, if not days, and updates are expected to be nearly instantaneous.

For GIS professionals, Esri’s ArcGIS Online comes to the rescue or further enables this trend (depending upon your perspective). This platform enables the discovery, sharing, and display of GIS data in a free cloud-based software-as-a-service, social GIS ecosystem. In plain speak, it allows you to create map data mashups with great Esri hosted/developed basemaps and lots of national and global scale GIS data. In the past few months, Esri has added the capability to upload basic spreadsheets with address information and other data in GIS formats that are processed and made available through the site. They even offer templates to provide simple applications with functions like search, measure, identify, and social media integration. All of this can be shared within a group of your choosing or out to the greater public, embedded in your website. Exciting stuff!

A few weeks ago I had the opportunity to dig into ArcGIS Online so I could share the new capabilities to CGIS’s staff in a brown bag lunch, and I am glad I did. Later the very same day, I was in a meeting with the Maryland State Geographic Information Officer (GIO), Barney Krucoff, where we were asked to assist with a hurry-up effort to push information about volunteer locations out to the public for the holidays. After listening to the requirements of rapid and ongoing development of volunteer location data by interns and the need for a simple application to find the sites, I mentioned that this was a perfect project for ArcGIS Online. With the go-ahead given to investigate, I took a draft cut of the volunteer locations that the interns had compiled in Google Docs and within a few hours had the data set up on ArcGIS Online for review. Within a week of data refinement by the interns, investigation of the data update workflow process, and tweaking of the template application, we had the end product mapping application ready to be embedded in Governor O’Malley’s Maryland Stronger Together website. With the site up and running, the interns were trained to edit and update the data using ArcGIS Online tools, and the site was released to the public a few days later. You can see the map under the locate charitable organizations near you link in the website above. This is a great example of success in meeting the new accelerated expectations, and in this case, with free hosting.

I happily followed an interoffice email thread a few weeks after the Maryland Stronger Together site was launched, wherein team members were looking for an organization for DECO to donate food to this year (as we have done for the past several years). Without any prompting on my part, the site was used to find the nearest location to donate. I hope that in this time of need and giving, this tool might make it that much easier for you to find a place to donate to or to volunteer for during this busy holiday season.

View the Maryland Stronger Together map in mobile device.