For fun, for work, and for school, I’ve used many geographic information system and mapping tools. I love locationalized data – it tells so many stories, and shows so many scenarios of our past, present and future. You must learn it if you want to stay ahead of the game, or even in the game. When I make pretty maps, I post them on Flickr.
I list all of the software and web application tools I’ve used in the past or continue to use. I don’t profess expertise in any of these tools, but I’ve tried a lot and I like to share my results.
GIS and mapping
- Quantum GIS (QGIS) – Free, open source software that works on the Mac. It happens less and less now, but equivalent software for Mac OS X can be hard to find. I used QGIS to test data and to figure out yet another way to convert shapefiles to KML files. Read all posts about QGIS.
- TileMill – Create your own slippy maps and images using geographic data from all kinds of sources (PostGIS databases, KML, CSV, and shapefile). I used it to create the basemap for the Chicago Bike Guide app for iOS. Created by MapBox.
- GRASS – This has very powerful conversion tools, based on OGR, and is essentially a GUI for OGR. I’ve used this to convert shapefiles to DXF files for use in AutoCAD.
- ESRI software’s ArcGIS suite – Like Microsoft Windows, ArcGIS has several levels of programs, each provides more features than the program below it. I only used ArcMap for school and when I worked at CDOT. I do not recommend it because it’s expensive and is very unintuitive.
- MapWindow – While I continued to figure out the best, fastest and least error prone method to convert shapefiles to KML files, I came across the free and open source MapWindow software.
- BatchGeocode.com – Website with simple, but powerful functions. I recommended this to my dad who wanted to create groups of church congregants who lived near each other. BatchGeocode, the resulting KML file, and Google Earth provided him the fastest route to visualizing where everyone lived and he could then manually group them. Obviously, GIS software would then allow him to select adjacent homes and categorizes them into “districts” for better sorting. No longer provides latitude/longitude coordinates.
- GPS Visualizer – This multi-address geocoder does provide the latitude/longitude coordinates. Read all posts about geocoding.
- GeoCommons – Quickly create maps from all kinds of geodata, including shapefiles, KML, and CSV or Excel tables. Provides you with the latitude/longitude coordinates.Â See my maps.
- Google Refine – Clean up and get to know your data a little better. Also helpful at creating new data based on existing fields, or fetching data from APIs using your data as parameters. For example, using the Sunlight Labs Congress API, I fetched the U.S. congressional districts for street addresses based on their latitude/longitude coordinates.
- Google Fusion Tables – Quickly share your tabular data, starting from CSV, KML, XLS, or Google Docs formats. Map your data instantaneously. Read all posts about Google Fusion Tables.
- Dedupe – I haven’t used this but Derek Eder created it so I know it’s good.