Advanced Interactive Web Mapping
This section describes how Expert land trust users can apply GIS advanced interactive web mapping.
Internet Map Serving (IMS) is a term that we use here to apply to using GIS software to serve maps over the Internet. These web mapping services allow for a variety of user choices as to data and area shown. They are different from software that can generate maps using Flash, SVG, Java or other tools, in that it is not a full-fledged GIS.
IMS is very robust and flexible - there are a wide variety of approaches that it can take. The advantage of using IMS is that it can perform just about any GIS function that you desire, all within a set of data that is itself in GIS format (rather than having to be exported to an intermediate format). The disadvantage is that the IMS capacity must reside on an Internet-serving computer with sophisticated capability, and that setting up the IMS mapping system can require very advanced GIS and other technical skills.
For most individual land trusts, full IMS may not be the best approach - but for those with great needs for providing layers of data and connecting with those who need that data (scientists, agency staff, etc.), it can be very effective.
ESRI ARC IMS
ESRI's Arc IMS software is widely used among public agencies. It provides a direct link to the Internet for GIS data and projects, allowing users choice of layers, zoom, and other browsing features, plus geographic queries and reporting. It can be configured simply (choose data and browse), or as a more powerful application (a mini-GIS). It is, however, quite expensive to run, with server licenses in the thousands of dollars.
IMS can also be set up to allow users to enter their own data (points, lines, polygons), and to save that information and add it to other map layers already in the IMS. Used this way, IMS can, for example, help larger land trusts coordinate field data collection and analysis. An example of this use of IMS is the ForestRim site of the Virginia Dept. of Forestry.
Other examples of ArcIMS can be found on the ESRI site.
There are many "flavors" of ArcIMS and land trusts interested in this approach must be prepared to do their homework - contacting ESRI directly is essential for understanding choices. ArcIMS can be extended with the use of ESRI's ArcServer product, which allows even more functions and is mainly used in very large institutions using complex centralized GIS.
ArcIMS is suitable only for very large land trusts or others who have great technical capacity. While publishing an IMS project is possible for advanced GIS users, managing the server technology that enables the IMS can be very challenging.
Other IMS Products: Other software publishers have their own offerings - MapInfo has MapExtreme, Caliper has Maptitude for the Web, and others exist. For land trusts, these may not be effective approaches due fact that most of other IMS software is applied to business applications, rather than conservation solutions. A more detailed listing of many IMS companies is found at the Directions Magazine site.
IMS services: The complexity of serving IMS has led to the emergence of companies that host ArcIMS applications - for a monthly fee, a user can post a number of applications. This can be very helpful for avoiding the challenging work of configuring and maintaining a computer server fast enough to meet current needs for speed and reliability.
OPEN SOURCE SOFTWARE
In the early 2000s, open source software has grown to be a useful approach to a variety of computing needs - most prominent is the Linux operating system. Open source software is developed and refined by users of many types and is made available for a nominal fee, if not free.
The main site for information on open source GIS software is the Open Source Geospatial Foundation, or OSGEO -- this web site has a wide range of information.
Among open source IMS solutions, MapServer software is a candidate for those land trusts looking to take advantage of simpler map serving. One of the examples are right shows the North Olympic Land Trust's public access map server, created for it by the non-profit consultant CommEn Space. A more general map server application is the ParkInfo.org site created by GreenInfo Network.
As with other IMS applications, it's a good idea to find a third party to host the applications needed to serve MapServer or other such software. One such service is HostGIS, but others are also available.
MAKING IMS WORTH IT
For most land trusts, IMS is a stretch, compared to other strategies for Internet-served maps. For those who choose to design and implement an IMS site, it's critical to ensure that two factors are taken into special account:
1. Site speed - for most casual Internet browsers, maps that respond quickly are essential. IMS sites must be set up to deliver results fast, even over more modest broadband or dial-up lines.
2. Design - Making IMS sites easily understandable remains a great challenge. Engaging skilled web designers to clarify the IMS interface is critical to a successful user experience. Many IMS sites are built by skilled technicians who are not able to integrate what an end-user most needs - such sites can be frustrating to visit and may not prove worth the investment they require.
ESRI ArcIMS web site