Research Proposal 2-19-97

Karl Musser

Guidelines for Interactive Mapping of the World Wide Web


A new method of disseminating information has accompanied the increased use of the Internet and World Wide Web. Groups that dispense spatial information have been quick to take advantage of the Web's ability to display graphic images, including maps. The interactive nature of the Web allows people to create Web sites or "pages" that put control over the creation and display of maps and other images in the hands of the user. The sites range from simple street maps to complex maps containing multiple layers of information. This creates the potential to increase the computer-using public's access to spatial data. Most sites that feature interactive mapping lack attention to accuracy and are not sensitive to the users ability (or lack thereof) to understand the data, perhaps because few sites are designed by cartographers.

Geographic literature on the Internet has largely been limited to the transfer of spatial data files using FTP. Most computer users can not afford software required to display and manipulate spatial data files directly. Methods of displaying spatial data on the Web and technical papers describing how to link GIS and the Web have been published in GIS and Web-published magazines. Few of these papers mention the quality of the sites being created or the implications of the general public's increased access to spatial data . The consensus seems to be that interactive mapping sites are not particularly useful yet, but that they have the potential to become a powerful tool in broadening access to spatial data (Thoen, 1995). The most prolific writer on this subject is Bill Thoen. Theon has written articles for GIS World in addition to publishing articles and a "Web GIS" resource list on his own Web page. Thoen finds the increased use of the Web for Interactive maps exciting and believes the quality of the sites will improve as Web technology advances (Thoen, 1995).


Use of interactive mapping on the Web has increased rapidly, yet literature on the subject is still virtually non-existent. This project has three purposes. The first is to review the state of interactive mapping on the Web. The second is to develop a set of guidelines for creating useful interactive mapping sites. Guidelines would encourage the use of cartographic principles and documentation to make easily understandable, high quality maps. Good documentation can help prevent the misuse of data. The final purpose is to increase awareness of this new field for cartography.


1. To identify and review existing interactive mapping sites on the World Wide Web.

2. To identify problems, issues, and trends in interactive mapping.

3. To develop and publish guidelines for the creation of interactive mapping Web sites.


My project will select interactive mapping sites using commercial Web search programs, such as Yahoo, references in published literature, and lists of interactive Web sites. Sites will be selected in order of how well they are publicized. I will include as many sites as time allows. Interactive mapping is defined as any map in which the user can manipulate the display of the map, from simply zooming and panning on the map to querying and analyzing the data displayed. I will review these sites using a standardized form in order to make classification and comparisons easier. An example of the form is given in Appendix A.

I intend to ask the administrators of these web sites several questions referring to their pages and their thoughts on the general use of interactive mapping on the Web. These questions will also be asked on the Web GIS (DISTGIS) e-mail discussion list. Responses from these questions will be summarized in my report. The questions include:

What motivated you to create the site?

What problems did you encounter in creating and maintaining the site?

Who uses the site? What do they use it for?

What does the future hold for interactive mapping and/or Web GIS?

What makes a good interactive mapping site?

What problems do existing sites have?

What should be included in a set of guidelines for interactive mapping sites?

Would you have used a set of guidelines in creating your site if they had been available? Why or Why not?

The guidelines will be based on responses to these questions, the literature, and from my own course work in cartography, GIS, and computer science. The guidelines will take the form of a checklist of things to be considered when creating a site. It will also include references to good examples and where to go for technical assistance. The guidelines will be distributed to administrators of existing sites, published on my own Web site. I also hope to publish these guidelines in GIS World or an on-line magazine.


This project will improve the quality and usefulness of maps and spatial data available on the Web. It will increase awareness and discussion about interactive maps, hopefully increasing academic interest in the subject. To use Thoen's terminology, I want to help interactive mapping make the transition from toy to tool. Interactive mapping on the Web has the potential to increase the general public's access to spatial data to solve everyday problems in planning, resource management, and other fields. I would like to see this potential realized using the standards for quality already established in cartography.

Time Line

1. Reviews - already begun, 4 more weeks. (March, 1997)

2. E-mail interviews - 5 weeks, may overlap with end of reviews. (April, 1997)

3. Developing guidelines - 2 weeks. (beginning of May, 1997)

4. Writing - 2 weeks, will overlap with developing guidelines. (May, 1997)

5. Distribute finished paper - 1 week. (End of May, 1997)


Environmental Systems Research Institute. "Internet Mapping." 1997.

Matuschak, Brian. "GIS on the Web." Electronic Atlas Newsletter. v. 7 n. 9 Sept., 1996.

Morris, Steve. "Web GIS and Interactive Mapping Sites." 1997.

Newcombe, Tod. "Spatial Surfers Try the Internet." Government Technology. July, 1996.

Plewe, Brandon. "Mapping on the Web." GIS World. Jan., 1996.

Thoen, Bill. Ed. "GIS Toy or Tool." discussion on comp.infosystem.gis 1995.

Thoen, Bill. Ed. "GIS on the Web." discussion on comp.infosystem.gis 1995.

Thoen, Bill. "Interactive Mapping and GIS Thrive on the Web." GIS World. Oct., 1995.

Thoen, Bill. "'WebGIS: Toy or Tool'? Resource List." 1996.

University of Minnesota. "Interactive GIS/RS on the Internet." 1996.

Appendix A

Review Form

Title: Name of the site.

Author: The designer and maintainer of the page, if they are given credit.

Organization: The organization, institution, or company that is supporting the site.

URL: The site location or address.

Summary: Provide a brief overview of the site.

Zoom/Pan/Query: Describes if and how well the user can perform these simple functions by clicking on the map.

Layers: Describes the data layer(s) being accessed and whether the users has any control over the appearance of different data layers.

Metadata: Describes what data about the data is present.

Cartographic Elements: Describes whether the map includes basic cartographic elements such as a scale, locator map, legend, labels, or map coordinates.

Text: Describes textual explanations or instructions accompanying the map.

Appearance: Describes the visual appeal of the map and any problems with resolution.

Friendliness: Describes how user friendly the site is.

Higher Functions: Describes whether any data analysis or thematic mapping by the user is possible.

Multimedia: Describes whether the site has taken advantage of the multimedia aspects of the web (Using pictures, animation, or sound).

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