Make a Map User Manual

Making Maps in GeoCommons

GeoCommons allows you to create professional-looking interactive maps from a wide variety of geographic data in only a few minutes. The mapping application operates right in your web browser and allows you to easily publish and share maps as embed images, URL links, or PDFs. You don’t need to be an expert in cartography to use GeoCommons. It will walk you through the map-making process, highlighting some important decisions and providing appropriate styling options. In no time, you’ll be making great looking maps quickly and easily.

Because the GeoCommons library of data is fully integrated with the mapping application, it is very easy to find and add different data to your map. You can also add your own data to these maps by uploading them through your web browser. GeoCommons allows you to combine different data together to map multiple themes at the same time. For example, you could make a map to show how population density and home prices are related. It is these kinds of multivariate thematic maps that really allow you to explore data and uncover new insights.

How to Make Maps with GeoCommons

GeoCommons now has a new faster mapping workflow or Happy Path, which gives you more options and better control of the map making process. This section will provide an overview of the Happy Path from start to finish. Each step will be explained in detail in its own section and can be accessed by clicking on the links provided.

From the homepage click on Make a Map at the top right of the page. You will be taken to the Finder Express where you will first choose a base map and then find a dataset to map. You can search for data within the GeoCommons community, or you can upload a new dataset on the spot.

After choosing or uploading your dataset or datasets you can organize you data and style your map in the Style Palette. The Style Palette is where the map is actually designed. Here you will see three bars to choose from; Style, Filters, Charts, and Animate.

_Please note that if you choose to map a dataset from the dataset description page, the base map will default to Acetate and you will be taken directly to the Style Palette. You can always go back and change the base map

If you click on the bar labeled Style, six tabs will open:

Click on the bar labeled Filters to select an attribute to filter out of you data.

To create charts of the data in your map, click on the bar labeled Chart

Clicking on the bar labeled Animate will allow you to choose a timestamped attribute with which to animate your map.

Please note that the Animate tab will only appear when your layer has a time stamped attribute.

The work flow for the Style Palette is intuitive and can walk a new user through the appropriate steps or can be quickly executed by experienced users. The result will be a custom stylized map of one of the following types.

Your resulting map can then be saved, described and then edited if desired. The Layers Palette to the right of the map will provide options for editing including returning to the Style Palette, adding a new layer, or changing the base map.

Types of Maps

With the GeoCommons you can create reference maps and visual theme maps.

Reference maps show the location of geographic features, e.g. plotting the paths of the major waterways of North America or the location of oil wells in a country. In this case, you’re using simple geometric symbols like dots, pushpins, or dashed lines to show where something is located. You should use this map when you don’t wish to associate values with your data points, i.e. just school locations, not the student populations at each location.

Visual theme maps use shapes or symbols to display values associated with locations. With GeoCommons you can choose to display the data through colors or shapes:

Color maps (also known as choropleth maps): If your data is attached to areas, such as states or countries, you can show the data using colors to represent different values, e.g. visualizing per capita income for the countries of the world using a light-to-dark color sequence.

Size maps (also known as proportional or graduated symbol maps): If your data is attached to areas or points, you can use the size of symbols to represent different values, e.g. visualizing attendance numbers for sports teams or concert venues.

When selecting which visual theme map to create, keep in mind:

Because size maps use the relative size of the shape to communicate, they can become quite dense and often harder to read if you have many large, overlapping symbols.

One advantage of size maps is that areas with the largest numbers really jump out at you, whereas these places might be missed on a color map if the size of the country/state/etc. is small.

Finder Express

Finder Express is the box where you can choose or change your base map, add datasets to your map, or upload a new dataset. You can perform any of these options by clicking on the appropriate tab on the left of the Finder Express box.

Choosing a Base Map

When you begin the map making process the first step on the Happy Path will be to choose a base map. This is where you select the background tiles for your map. You can choose from road, hybrid, satellite, terrain, solid, or Acetate. The options will be laid out as preview images in the Finder Express box.

When you click on a base map the changes will be reflected on your map. Once you choose your base map, you can always go back and change it by clicking on the Change button next to the base map in the Layers Palette.

Acetate

Acetate is GeoCommons’s new custom base map built specifically for visualizing data analysis. Acetate allows you to layer infrastructure such as roads and place names on your map along with your data. Acetate appears as one of the many base map options available in the Finder Express. You can easily rearrange the data layers on your map to bring place names, streets and other points of interest to the forefront of your map.

When you choose Acetate as your base map you will see an attractive yet simple map and in your Layers Palette you will have a layer called Roads and another called Place Names. These layers can be rearranged in the Layers Palette to be displayed below or above your data on the map. They can also be turned off by clicking on the box to the right of the layer.

To customize your base map using Acetate, search for any WMS (Web Mapping Service), IEM (layers created with the help of the University of Iowa) or raster tiles within the GeoCommons database, upload your own, or simply use the default ones on your map. If you choose to add a tile to your basemap, a new tab will appear in the Style Palette where you can manage the tile.

Finding Data to Map

Once you have chosen your base map, Finder Express will direct you to choose a layer in the Find Data tab of Finder Express. You can search for specific keywords or phrases and you can narrow your search to Your Datasets or even Pending Data.

You can also choose to search only layers whose geographic boundaries fall within the boundaries in your map. To search by geographic boundary, close the Finder Express box, zoom in on your map to the desired area, click the Add button in the Layers Palette reopen the Finder Express box and then click on the Within the Map option to the left.

When searching for data in Finder Express, each dataset will be displayed by its preview map. The preview map shows the locations of the data and whether data are points, polygons or lines.

You can hover over the image to see details of the dataset or click on the information symbol to navigate to the dataset description page. To add the desired dataset to the map you can either click on the plus sigh on the preview or click on the entire image. If you want to add more than one layer to your map, clicking on the plus sigh will add the dataset and will keep the Finder Express open to continue searching for more datasets.

Once you are finished selecting your layers, you can close Finder Express from the upper right corner. If you only want to work with one layer, clicking on the entire image will add only that dataset and then take you to the next step; the Style Palette.

Upload a dataset

You can choose to upload data right from Finder Express. Simply click on the Upload tab and then follow the usual steps for uploading and describing data. If the Finder Express is closed you can click on the Upload button from the options to the upper right of your map. Uploading data right from the map making process will automatically add that layer to your map.

Searching for Existing Maps

If you’d rather skip the map making process and search for existing maps, GeoCommons allows you to search and browse maps within your own appliance or across multiple appliances through federated search.

The search function is as easy as typing a keyword or phrase into the 'Search' bar on the GeoCommons homepage. The results page will display datasets and maps that match your keywords in either their title and/or tags. To search only existing maps, click on the Maps tab in the search results.

Style Palette

The Style Palette is where you will make all decisions on the type of map you will create and the stylization of that map. You will be given appropriate options for your particular dataset. You will choose whether to create a reference map or a visual theme map. Then, depending on your choice, you will customize the symbols used on your map, including the size of the symbols, their color and transparency, the shape and style of the icons and lines, and the color sequences used on choropleth maps. You can also use the Style Palette to filter out certain features on your map or to create an animated map.

Watch a video on the Style Palette here

Style

Clicking on the Style bar of the Style Palette opens five tabs with which you will design your map; shape, color, size, line, and opacity/shadow. You can go through the Happy Path provided for you by clicking on the first tab or you can go straight to the tabs you know you will need for a quicker map.

The style options have been carefully designed to work well across a variety of background images (satellite, roads, terrain). We encourage you to explore these options to create a unique look for your data. Be sure to click on the question marks to get an explanation of what to do at each step. You can always go back and change your selections. As you make choices in the Style Palette, the map will automatically preview these choices for you. Since designing a map is a highly visual process, rely on these previews to help create the look you want.

Once you have completed your map, you can always return to the Style Palette at anytime to make changes by clicking Edit from the options on the upper right of your map and then clicking on the dataset name in the Layers Palette. This will open a small box next to the dataset name where you can choose to return to the Style Palette, rename your dataset in the map or remove the layer. Renaming the dataset will only change the name in the map, it will not affect the original dataset.

Shapes

The Shapes tab is where you will choose between a point or polygon map. You can click on the box for Areas if you want a map that shows polygons for you features. This is only available of your dataset has the geographic information for boundaries.

Clicking on Areas will direct you to choose style by color as your next step.

Clicking on Icons will direct you to either choose an icon for a reference map or theme the data by size or color. You can also use a custom icon by entering an image URL in the box provided.

Note that you can show polygonal, or area data as icons. The icon will be placed in the center of the geographic area. This is useful if you are showing two layers that have the same geographic areas. You can show one as polygons and another as points. That way, both will be visible at the same time.

Color

The Color tab is where you will choose single or themed color. You can use a single color if you want a reference map or a color scale for a visually themed map.

If you choose a single color you will be given a color palette to choose from. Simply click on the color you want and the changes will be reflected on your map.

If you choose a color theme, you will be guided through three steps. For step one you will be asked to choose the attribute you would like to represent visually. Click on the Select button and you will be provided a list of attributes from your dataset which are numeric or categories. Next to each attribute you will see a histogram or distribution of the data. This histogram can help you in making decisions on how to manage the data. Select you attribute.

For step two you can control the type of classification for your data. This is how you data will be broken up on your map. See the section on classification methods for more information on how each one is calculated. You will be given four classification choices which will be shown as histograms; Quantile, Equal Interval, Standard Deviation, and Maximum. For the most appropriate choice for your data, find the histogram that best matches the histogram of your selected dataset. Clicking on each choice will display a preview on your map.

You also now have a fifth option to manual adjust your classification. This is useful if you want to show brakes at very specific numerical intervals or if you want to make two or more layers have the same breaks despite varying ranges of data.

When you click on Manual under the classification type, you will be shown a slider with which you can adjust the number of breaks, and another with which you can adjust where in the data the breaks take place. Simply slide the markers back and forth to adjust. As you adjust, the color bars in the slider will get bigger or smaller, representing the number of features that fall within the new breaks. Also, if you prefer, you can adjust the breaks by entering a numerical value in the box. Simply click on the marker you want to adjust and then type the value in the box and hit enter on your keyboard. As you can see in the image below this is useful if you wanted your classification breaks at even numbers so it appears neater in the legend.

Lastly, choose your color scheme. You can also choose to reverse the color scheme if that fits better with your data. When finished click Done and the Style Palette will close. Remember that you can always go back and edit your map style by clicking on the layer in the Layers Palette.

Size

The Size tab is where you will customize your point map if that is what you have chosen. You can choose to show your points or icons as all the same size for a reference map or as graduated sizes for a visually themed map.

Note that this tab is not available if you have chosen to display areas on you map.

If you choose Same Size, you will be able to control the size of you icons by clicking on the icon scale.

If you choose graduated icons, you map will show the highest numeric range of your data as the largest sized icons and the lowest numeric range the smallest sized shapes. You will be guided through three steps. For step one you will be asked to choose the attribute you would like to represent visually. Click on the Select button and you will be provided a list of attributes from your dataset which are numeric. Next to each attribute you will see a histogram or distribution of the data. This histogram can help you in making decisions on how to manage the data. Select you attribute.

For step two you can control the type of classification for your data. This is how you data will be broken up on your map. See the section on classification methods for more information on how each one is calculated. You will be given four choices which will be shown as histograms; Quantile, Equal Interval, Standard Deviation, and Maximum. For the most appropriate choice for your data, find the histogram that best matches the histogram of your selected dataset. Clicking on each choice will display a preview on your map.

You also now have a fifth option to manual adjust your classification. This is useful if you want to show brakes at very specific numerical intervals or if you want to make two or more layers have the same breaks despite varying ranges of data.

When you click on Manual under the classification type, you will be shown a slider with which you can adjust the number of breaks, and another with which you can adjust where in the data the breaks take place. Simply slide the markers back and forth to adjust. As you adjust, the color bars in the slider will get bigger or smaller, representing the number of features that fall within the new breaks. Also, if you prefer, you can adjust the breaks by entering a numerical value in the box. Simply click on the marker you want to adjust and then type the value in the box and hit enter on your keyboard. As you can see in the image below this is useful if you wanted your classification breaks at even numbers so it appears neater in the legend.

Lastly, choose your icon size. When finished click Done and the Style Palette will close. Remember that you can always go back and edit your map style by clicking on the layer in the Layers Palette.

Line

The Line tab of the Style Palette will allow you to customize the outline of your icons and areas. You can adjust the thickness, the transparency and the color. As you make changes they will automatically be reflected in the map.

Transparency and Shadow

The Transparency and Shadow tab allows you to further stylize your map by setting the transparency of your features as well as the option of creating a shadow for icons.

Infowindow

Clicking on the Infowindow tab will open the Info Window Brewer. Here you can do many things to customize the Info Windows on your map. The Info Windows contain all the data from your dataset and is what the viewer sees when they click on the features in your map.

To change the Title and/or Subtitle of your Info Windows, you can simply click in the box and type what you want the viewer to see. You will also see a dropdown appear on the right hand side of oppitions for the attributes within your data. Clicking on one of these will direct GeoCommons to put in the title or subtitle of each feature the attribute cell for that feature. For example, in the image below, the title was followed by the attribute County therefore the title for each Info Window will read Population and the name of the County of each feature.

You can also customize the colors of the Info Windows. Clicking on the dropdown for colors will give you the options of the background, font, line, title and subtitle within the Info Windows. Click on the option you would like to change and the color palette will appear to the right. Simply click on the color you would like to use. If you have an Info Window open while you are doing this, you will be able to see the changes reflected as you choose. Play around to see what color you think look best for your map. If you want to start over from the default colors, simply click Reset Color.

If the size of your Info Windows needs to be adjusted, you can do so but adjusting width and height in the boxes provided. In the example below, the width was decreased since the lines of data were shorter and the height was increased to fit all of the attributes in the window without having to scroll down.

Lastly, you can create tabs within the Info Window to organize data. When you click on Enable Tabs new options will appear in which you can create new tabs, title them, and then choose the attributes you want to be present in each tab. In the image below, two tabs were created. One for Data which contains all of the age attributes and another called Other which contains the rest of the attributes such as county name, latitude and longitude etc. This is also an opportunity to hide any data that you don’t want see in your Info Windows.

Filters

Click on the bar labeled Filters to select an attribute to filter out of you data. If you select a numeric attribute, you can either use the slide bar to select the range you want to be displayed or you can click on the number icon to the right to enter the range manually. If you select a text attribute, you can write the word or phrase that you want to remain on the map. This is case sensitive and the whole word or phrase must be typed into your filter for those features to remain on the map. If there is a slight difference from what you type in the filter and the word or phrase in the attribute, no features will remain on the map. You can add as many filters as you want.

Watch a demonstration on how to use filters here.

Chart

When you click on the bar labeled Chart, you will be given the option to create a graphical representation of your data. You can choose from five different types of charts; area, bar, line, pie, and scatterplot.

Simply click on the type of the chart you want to make and the chart will open up along with a table of the data. You will be prompted to choose the attribute or attributes for your chart. When you are finished save your chart.

The chart along with the data table can be open on the map or minimized to the bottom left corner.

Animate

Clicking on the bar labeled Animate will allow you to choose a time stamped attribute with which to animate your map. Generally, GeoCommons will recognize any attribute title that references time, date etc. Simply choose the attribute you wish to show as an animation. As a result you will get a time scale in the animation window at the bottom of your map with which to manage your animation. The animation window will feature a histogram of your data. If you hold your curser over a bar in the histogram it will show you the time/date and the number of features that exist for that time/date.

You can play or pause the animation using the play/pause button to the left of the animation window. You can also widen or shorten the window to control the span of time that is show at one time in the animation. If you want to hide the animation window by clicking on the green arrows to the upper right of the window.

If GeoCommons does not recognize your time/date column, you can coerce it to do so in the upload/geocoding process only when using a csv. After you have uploaded your csv, must choose to locate using the latitude and longitude columns or geocode based on an address or place name. Once you have selected one of these options, you will be given the choice to continue using the columns selected or to select different columns. Choose to Select different columns.

Here you will see a chart with each attribute of your dataset and the default data format. Click on the data format for your time/date attribute. Then click on the Standard tab of the box that will open. Under this tab you will find the Time or Date option. Select this option and now Time or Date should be provided as the data format for your attribute. Click Continue and complete the upload and description process.

See how to prepare your data for temporal animation here
Watch a demonstration on how the animation works here

Layers Palette

The Layers Palette is the heart of the GeoCommons mapping system and acts as your main control for your map. The Layers Palette can be hidden or shown on your map by clicking on the green arrows to the upper left of the palette. In the Layers Palette you can:

Adding a layer from the Layers Palette

You can add a layer to your map at any time when in edit mode by clicking on the green Add button in the upper right of the Layers Palette. This will take you to the Finder Express where you can search for a dataset or upload a new one.

Editing a layer from the Layers Palette

You can always return to the Style Palette at anytime to make changes by clicking on the dataset name in the Layers Palette. This will open a small box next to the dataset name where you can choose to return to the Style Palette, rename your dataset in the map or remove the layer. Renaming the dataset will only change the name in the map; it will not affect the original dataset. You can also directly access the Filter, Analyze, Animate, and Chart features here.

Changing the Base Map from the Layers Palette

You can change your base map at anytime while in the edit mode by clicking on the green Change button next to the base map name in the Layers Palette. This will take you to the Finder Express where you can choose from any of the base map options. As you click on each base map option, the changes will be displayed on your map. When you have selected the base map you want, simply close the Finder Express by clicking on the *+* at the top right.

Turn layers on and off from the Layers Palette

Each layer in your map will be displayed in the Layers Palette with a small check box to the right of it. You can click this box to turn on and off each layer. When the layer is on, you will be able to see the layer in your map. When the layer is turned off or “hidden”, you will not see the layer in you map.

Moving layers form the Layers Palette

You can drag layers in the Layers Palette to customize how they are displayed in your map. The layer on the top of the Layers Palette is the layer that will be shown above all other layers on your map. The layer on the bottom of the Layers Palette will be beneath all other layers on your map. For example, if you have a layer of polygons and a layer of points for the same area, you will want to make sure that the point layer is on the top in your Layers Palette otherwise the points will be beneath the polygons and will not be seen.

Creating a Title for Your Map

Whenever you create a map, GeoCommons will generate a title to the upper left of your map. The default name will be based on the first layer added to your map however you will probably want to change this name to more descriptive and incorporate all layers on your map. The time period and geographic area as well as subject matter are always good to include in your title. Simply click on the default title and then type your new title in the box provided.

Saving and Describing Your Map

To save your map so that it can shared and viewed later, click on the Save button to the upper right of the map. The first time you save your map you will be taken directly to the Map Details screen where you can add some details/background information about your map. You can write a short description telling the story behind the map, and the dataset(s) used to create the map. Tags can also be added, which will allow other users to easily find your map.

Once you are finished click Done and you will be taken back to your saved map. This is your final product and can be linked directly from this page. If you want to do further work on you map simply click on Edit to the upper right and you can begin editing. When you are finished editing remember to save your changes.

You have the option of controlling the privacy of your map. In the Map Details box, you will see two tabs. One is Description and the other is Permissions. Click on the Permissions tab and you can choose who may edit, access, and find your map. You may specify these choices for each group you are part of as well. This works just like the permissions for datasets.

For GeoCommons users private data is limited to 20MB and 10 private maps. For additional privacy capabilities, contact 

Zooming and Panning on Your Map

You can pan anywhere in any direction on you map by clicking the left mouse button and moving your mouse in the direction you wish your map to go.

There are several ways to zoom in and out on your map.

1) Zoom Bar: The zoom bar can be used in three ways

2) By holding down the Shift button, you can use your mouse to left click and draw a zoom box around the area you where you wish to zoom.

3) You can also double click anywhere on the map and the map will automatically zoom in one level around that spot.

4) You can use your scroll where while your cursor is on the map to zoom in and out of the map.

3D Mode

GeoCommons allows you to view the map in 3D mode utilizing the Google Earth platform. 3D mode requires the installation of a Google Earth plug in. GeoCommons will provide a link to download the proper plug in (if it has not been previously installed on your system).

By selecting the Get Google Earth Plugin now link, download and installation will begin automatically. After installation users can view their data in an interactive 3D environment.

Feature Information Windows

When you click on any feature on your map connected to a dataset, an Info Window will open which will provide all of the attribute information (numerical and text) for that particular feature. If features are stacked or are too close together to click on an individual feature, the information window will contain a page for each feature in the area clicked. You can scan through these pages by clicking on the arrows in the upper left of the box. You can also customize the appearance of your Info Windows using the Info Window Brewer by clicking on the Infowindow tab in the Style Palette.

Data Table

Another way to access the data behind your map is by opening the Data Table. This table can be opened by clicking on the Data button at the bottom left of your map.

Clicking on it will open a table where you can see all of the data contained in each layer of your map. To switch from one layer to another, click on the layer name in the Data Table and a drop down will provide options to view each layer.

Expandable Legend

Each map will contain a legend at the bottom right of the screen that will present all features along with their symbol or polygon color. When showing data on a thematic map, GeoCommons will generate a legend that will display the categories for your data. The legend will contain the color or size scheme with the corresponding numeric ranges. This legend can be displayed or hidden by clicking on the arrow at the bottom right of your map.

Embedding a Map

Maps built in GeoCommons can be easily embedded into other websites or collaboration sites. To embed a map, click the Describe button when viewing the map you want to embed. In the now visible Details window, you will see a link that says Embed this map in your website. Clicking on this link will reveal two text boxes that have HTML code that can be copied and pasted.

The GeoCommons map is by default 400 pixels high. You can modify this default height and width and changing the numbers in the <style> section of the embed code. You can use percentage, or fixed pixel values. For example, to set the height to 300 pixels and the width to 500 pixels - the styling would look like:

Watch a demonstration on embedding your map here

Creating KML or png of a Map

Downloading a KML of a Map

You also have an option of downloading a KML of your saved map or any other map in GeoCommons. This can be accessed by clicking on the About button at the top right of your saved map and then clicking Save as... KML. Please note that if the map styling is changed, the kml downloaded will not reflect any changes.

Save a png of a Map

Also, when you click on About from your saved map or another user's map, you can get a png by clicking on Save as.... Image. This will open a new tab with the png which then can be saved to your computer.