Featured Resource: QGIS, a Free, Open Source Mapping Platform

This week, geographers around the globe took some time to celebrate the software that allows them to analyze, well, that very same globe. November 13th marked the 20th annual GIS Day,  an “international celebration of geographic information systems,” as the official GIS Day website puts it.

the words "GIS day" in a stylized font appear below a graphic of a globe with features including buildings, trees, and water

But while GIS technology has revolutionized the way we analyze and visualize maps over the past two decades, the high cost of ArcGIS products, long recognized as the gold standard for cartographic analysis tools, is enough to deter many people from using it. At the University of Illinois and other colleges and universities, access to ArcGIS can be taken for granted, but many of us will not remain in the academic world forever. Luckily, there’s a high-quality alternative to ArcGIS for those who want the benefits of mapping software without the pricetag!

the QGIS logo

QGIS is a free, open source mapping software that has most of the same functionality as ArcGIS. While some more advanced features included in ArcGIS do not have analogues in QGIS, developers are continually updating the software and new features are always being added. As it stands now, though, QGIS includes everything that the casual GIS practitioner could want, along with almost everything more advanced users need.

As is often the case with open source software alternatives, QGIS has a large, vibrant community of supporters, and its developers have put together tons of documentation on how to use the program, such as this user guide. Generally speaking, if you have any experience with ArcGIS it’s very easy to learn QGIS—for a picture of the learning curve, think somewhere along the lines of switching from Microsoft Word to Google Docs. And if you don’t have experience, the community is there to help! There are many guides to getting started, including the one listed in the above link, and more forum posts of users working through questions together than anyone could read in a lifetime. 

For more help, stop by to take a look at one of the QGIS guidebooks in our reference collection, or send us an email at sc@library.illinois.edu!

Have you made an interesting map in QGIS? Send us pictures of your creations on Twitter @ScholCommons!

 

Scholarly Smackdown: StoryMap JS vs. Story Maps

In today’s very spatial Scholarly Smackdown post we are covering two popular mapping visualization products, Story Maps and StoryMap JS.Yes they both have “story” and “map” in the name and they both let you create interactive multimedia maps without needing a server. However, they are different products!

StoryMap JS

StoryMap JS, from the Knight Lab at Northwestern, is a simple tool for creating interactive maps and timelines for journalists and historians with limited technical experience.

One  example of a project on StoryMap JS is “Hockey, hip-hop, and other Green Line highlights” by Andy Sturdevant for the Minneapolis Post, which connects the stops of the Green Line train to historical and cultural sites of St. Paul and Minneapolis Minnesota.

StoryMap JS uses Google products and map software from OpenStreetMap.

Using the StoryMap JS editor, you create slides with uploaded or linked media within their template. You then search the map and select a location and the slide will connect with the selected point. You can embed your finished map into your website, but Google-based links can deteriorate over time! So save copies of all your files!

More advanced users will enjoy the Gigapixel mode which allows users to create exhibits around an uploaded image or a historic map.

Story Maps

Story maps is a custom map-based exhibit tool based on ArcGIS online.

My favorite example of a project on Story Maps is The Great New Zealand Road Trip by Andrew Douglas-Clifford, which makes me want to drop everything and go to New Zealand (and learn to drive). But honestly, I can spend all day looking at the different examples in the Story Maps Gallery.

Story Maps offers a greater number of ways to display stories than StoryMap JS, especially in the paid version. The paid version even includes a crowdsourced Story Map where you can incorporate content from respondents, such as their 2016 GIS Day Events map.

With a free non-commercial public ArcGIS Online account you can create a variety of types of maps. Although it does not appear there is to overlay a historical map, there is a comparison tool which could be used to show changes over time. In the free edition of this software you have to use images hosted elsewhere, such as in Google Photos. Story Maps are created through their wizard where you add links to photos/videos, followed by information about these objects, and then search and add the location. It is very easy to use and almost as easy as StoryMap JS. However, since this is a proprietary software there are limits to what you can do with the free account and perhaps worries about pricing and accessing materials at a later date.

Overall, can’t really say there’s a clear winner. If you need to tell a story with a map, both software do a fine job, StoryMap JS is in my totally unscientific opinion slightly easier to use, but we have workshops for Story Maps here at Scholarly Commons!  Either way you will be fine even with limited technical or map making experience.

If you are interested in learning more about data visualization, ArcGIS Story Maps, or geopatial data in general, check out these upcoming workshops here at Scholarly Commons, or contact our GIS expert, James Whitacre!

Event: Illinois GIS Day

  • What: A celebration of GIS Day, an “annual salute to geospatial technology and its power to transform and improve our lives.” The event is free, and includes a keynote address, presentations, lightning talk sessions, a map/poster competition, and a career connection session.
  • Where: iHotel and Conference Center, 1900 S 1st St, Champaign, IL 61820
  • When: November 15, 2016 from 8:00 AM – 4:15 PM; registration open now
  • Why: To spend a day with other GIS enthusiasts, to make important connections, and to learn new and important information about what is going on in the field, including a keynote address by Keith A. Searles, Chief Executive Officer, Urban GIS, Inc.