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Thursday, 30 April 2015

Map is Power

The map above converts complex statistical information to
chunks of  relevant knowledge pieces
This is part of my submission to International Map Industry Association (IMIA) blog
Like many cartographers, I am always fascinated with maps. I could be staring at any floating globe or spending quality time with my atlases. Maps has been one of the best graphical tools to convey knowledge. Knowledge is Power. Hence, Map is Power too!
Through my personal globe and many atlases, I came to know the vastness and complexities of the world. Maps simplify the complexity of world into chunks of knowledge relevant for the audience. For example, atlases have many thematic maps which shows the interrelationships of nature and mankind. A thematic map reduces multiple relationships to a simpler one where you and I can understand the world. Since the dawn of mankind, maps has served to further progress of humanity. From finding food to 3D modelling of disasters, maps have informed us what to do. Hence, Map is Power!
Like what other blog contributors mentioned, most of the map history is dictated by the professional surveyors and cartographers. Vast majority of the populace lives by and accept the standards and shapes determined by map-makers. Hence, the power of maps and the knowledge conveyed to the world is predetermined. With the advent of technologies and global geographical volunteers, the centre of power has shifted away from the map-makers. Today, non-cartographers(or surveyors/GISers) are the forefront in providing the new geographical information and most importantly, new maps.
I captured a lot of free geographic information for many years but there wasn’t a platform for me to make it publicly available. Then, I stumbled upon the OpenStreetMap and it was Power in action. As I am from Malaysia, freely available datasets (we take granted this in developed world) is very hard to be obtained. OpenStreetMap provided me and other geographic volunteers to break down the mammoth dataset barrier in front of us. Before Google Maps showed all the bus stops locations of my home state, I filled up the bus stops and route paths on Open Street Maps. Other users also chipped in by updating the attributes. It is clear example how new technologies are bringing power of maps to a bigger audience. Maps impact people and people impact maps.
With the advent open source datasets and open source technologies, maps are empowering more people than ever. Civil society and individuals are creating maps more than ever in history of mankind and interpreting the world in their unique ways. Barriers are coming down and map mashups are everywhere. Geographical analysis is advancing further and giving new insights to businesses and governments. We know exactly where to put our store or next school. We can visualize predictions using time-lapse features of various GIS software. Don’t you feel map is so empowering? Map is Power.
In conclusion, in our current lifetime, we have seen how maps have empowered us. More importantly, we, both the consumers and producers, have been empowered to shape the maps. Maps will continue to evolve (from drawings on ground to virtual reality) but always to stick to its main purpose. Conveying knowledge in a simplified manner and giving us the power to act. Map is Power!
Danesh Prakash Chacko, volunteer/pro-bono GIS consultant in Melbourne (Australia)

Saturday, 18 April 2015

Creating an 'Atlas' using ArcGIS and QGIS

Usually when I produce maps, I produce a single map based on single theme. However, back in my uni days and work training, I have learnt an important cartographic component in ArcGIS and QGIS.

A sample Local Government Area map of New South
Wales built on ArcGIS
It was about building an 'Atlas' in GIS. Multiple maps stored in one PDF and ready for print. This knowledge was put to the test when one of my Account Manager said he wants a map of all his clients (October 2014). His clients are spread over one state and he had a list of them in Excel. Good thing was they were Local Governments only.

In April 2015, another Account Manager approached me and asked me to produce a map of local governments and water authorities in New South Wales. You may think why do we need an Atlas style product for these two instances?

In this discussion, I will be discussing the challenges behind making these two 'atlases' and some comparisons between QGIS and ArcGIS.

Challenges/Issues to Consider 

  • Data - In Australia, they have free data for Local Government Areas. However, the free data they had for the road network and localities are nearly 10 years old (Sourced from Geoscience Australia).
  • Intended Audience - Account Managers use these maps as rough guides where their clients and prospective ones are found. Sometimes they may use for rough planning when they traveling around to see multiple clients. Hence, just showing the local government areas (LGAs) is not enough. I cannot expect my audience to know every LGA by name and location. Due to that, I incorporated roads and localities to give good geographical insight
  • Level of Information Displayed - This becomes an issue on how many towns and cities the map should contain. If you refer to the first figure above, I classified the localities strictly to towns and cities. My Account Managers doesn't need to know every town or populated area in LGA. They need to know LGA name, the main town (s) and some roads connecting between towns.
  • Scale - The most difficult issue I faced. New South Wales has over hundred LGAs of varying size and it is impossible to have clean map with all names of LGA. That is why the concept of mapbook was used in these two instances. ArcGIS and QGIS uses one shapefile to break down the mapbook into regions. I used Tourist Regions to divide the various states in Australia to produce multiple maps. However, in the context of New South Wales, I felt Tourist Region is very general division. I chose Statistical regional divisions to show more zoomed-in views of Sydney area. Sydney has many smaller size (only area we talking about) LGAs. 
  • Text Layout - Text is necessary evil. I have ZERO intention of using any other graphic software to beautify the map. I am producing the map on the go and would like to deliver fast to my Account Managers. I fully capitalized Maplex Label Engine (in ArcGIS) to position text at best. 
  • Software - I have used mapbook approach twice (in real life situation) so far in my cartographic career. The first instance, I was motivated to use QGIS to produce mapbooks for many states. The second instance, I used ArcGIS as I have not used Data-Driven pages before.Both instances they were learning curves for me.


I was very much grounded to ArcGIS (the only GIS software I knew at university). I came to know QGIS through my current work and learned further through QGIS training. Some opinions:
  • In both GIS software, the final layout and content to be displayed are nearly the same. You can change the paper size, adjust the legends and placing inset maps in ArcGIS and QGIS
  • From my experience, time consumed from the collecting data to final output are nearly the same for both software.
  • However, the KEY difference between ArcGIS and QGIS I have noticed is the cartographic presentation. In ArcGIS, they have more in-built colour schemes than QGIS. Hence, I spend less time in determining on one of the fundamentals of maps. In text labeling, I was pleased both in performance by ArcGIS and QGIS
If you ask my stance, I tilt to ArcGIS due to my longer exposure comparatively to QGIS. However, the essence of this blog post is not about which software is better than other. In these two instances which used two different software, it is principles of mapping that played a big factor:
  • Who is my Audience?
  • How much information my Audience needs to see?
  • Is the datasets needed for the map readily available?
  • What scale level should I utilize? Should it be fixed or dynamic
  • What is the best position for the labels
  • Is the overall map layout conveys the right information the Audience needs to know?
Resources I used for building the map books using QGIS and ArcGIS

Atlas Generation in QGIS  and map book in ArcGIS: