Easy-to-Use WebGIS Platform

A Short Review of WebGIS in 2020

Create and Share GIS Data in 3D without coding

illustration by Chaeyun Kim

First, let’s talk about the web GIS platform. Currently, there are several platforms that able you to visualize your data on the 2D map or the 3D Earth-like through the web. You do not need to install the GIS program anymore as you can freely do several tasks directly on the web. This article will cover examples and features of these three following platforms

  • Google Earth Web
  • ArcGIS Platform
  • Cesium

Google Earth Web

The Google Earth Web is a web-based of Google Earth. If you want to visualize 3D buildings in the cities or create a storytelling tour and see the surrounding anywhere on the earth in 3D, this is the app for you. It also lets you easily create and explore stories and places around the world. The below image shows how it looks in the city of Stuttgart.

Here is the screenshot of Google Earth Web

Well, very impressive..!

The first time I saw this a year ago made me very surprised by the 3D Mesh Model map quality that Google Earth provided. Once, it was only possible through the Google Earth Pro. But now you can view this quality through the web. Great! However, this 3D building does not contain any attributes or properties such as names, facade properties, etc. so you can not directly make the analysis from the building models directly.

Google Earth Web, map out your places Guide by Google

The main features that Google Earth Web provided are not only the beautiful 3D visualization. You can also create the feature (Point or Line) and save it as the KML file. You can import your KML file to view the app as well. After you are done with the edit, you can export the KML file out or directly link it to your Google account too. Convenient! If you want to check how it works, please check this tutorial by Google.

What about the price? It is free..!!

Even though it sounds so cool so far, but it still lacks main GIS analysis functionalities such as creating a heat map or cluster map. If that is what you are looking for, please consider the ArcGIS platform instead.

ArcGIS Platform

If you are looking for more various online GIS data processing tools and visualization widgets through the web, you may go for the ArcGIS platform by ESRI, the world-leading GIS company. You can also easily share your results as a web app or story map. With the ArcGIS platform, you can build a variety of presentations such as dashboard, story map, or web app showing the geospatial data on the map. It supports several tables and GIS file types. Several dashboards that present the data using maps mostly based on the ArcGIS platform. For example, the current popular COVID-19 Dashboard from JHU built based on ArcGIS is one of the first COVID-19 web app showing very informative data for the COVID-19 spreading. If you are interested in a map data of COVID-19, you may check the hosted-GIS data from this COVID-19 data hub.

ArcGIS COVID-19 Dashboard (CSSE at Johns Hopkins University)

Also, if you want to create a story-telling presentation from your map, the below story map example shows the history of COVID-19. You can check here for the basics of the Story Map Basic Tutorial. If you use twitter, you can check here for some good/updated tip of the ArcGIS Story Map.

ArcGIS Story Map showing History of COVID-19

If you are interested in the 3D city model, you should check out the I3S, a 3D model standard format from ESRI too. Together with ArcGIS Earth, you can do the streaming of large 3D datasets with high performance and scalability. It is also web and mobile-friendly.

Using I3S layers with interactive analysis tools in ArcGIS Earth (Source: ESRI)

For the pricing, if you are a student or academic worker, then you may use it for free with an education license. Otherwise, you may get free 50 credits per month to perform the analysis which is enough to test something out or have to pay to use some premium features. You can check the full price list here.

Cesium

Hmm… What is Cesium? Someone may not know it yet as it is quite new if we compared it with Google or the ArcGIS platform. It is one of the leading platforms for building 3D geospatial applications.

3D City Model in NYC on the Cesium Application. Symbolized by building height.

If you are the web developer, you may take a short look at the CesiumJS, which is the open-source JavaScript library for building a 3D application. You can take a look at the several application built with the Cesium-based here. One cool feature is its support for the 3D Tiles / glTF — the 3D model format, which also supports the attribute of the 3D building as well. Also, it supports the time-dynamic of any feature object. But to use CesiumJS, it requires a basic JavaScript skill. You may install it directly from npm too! Check this link

If you do not want to code, Cesium also announces CesiumION a web-based platform where you can use host the 2D or 3D geospatial data and share it with a story-telling presentation easily without coding experience needed. As an example, you can see this example online for showing the history of Space Shuttle Discovery.

image from https://www.cesium.com/docs/tutorials/stories-introduction/

For the pricing, you can use it for free for personal use with a 5 GB storage without bandwidth limit. Well, that is quite big enough if you just want to try it out and create some nice presentations for your 3D model. You can check the full price list here.

Overall, the CesiumION platform provides beautiful 3D visualization and also supports several file formats. So if you have 3D models and want to visualize them on the web, it would fit you well.

Conclusion

This article covers a short review of three main leading WebGIS platforms including Google Earth Web, ArcGIS, and Cesium. With these platforms, you can create a nice visualization and presentation through the web without coding needed.

M.Sc. in Photogrammetry and Geoinformatics. 📚LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/thunyatheps/

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