Week 1 Site Review: Geo Commons

Powered by GeoIQ, Geo Commons is an interactive website, open to the public, that is sponsored by many different companies, international NGO’s and news sources. Geo Commons offers extensive maps and data with an application to create your own maps directly on the website. This feature requires a free user identification, with which you can save maps, upload your own data to their database and create and belong to groups to share files and collaborate on maps. In a sense, this is a community for building maps and sharing resources. Geo Commons also offers free resources for API Developers. Access to this website seems like a must for any professionals utilizing GIS, and especially for students learning about these tools.

Bassignana Website Review #2


This website makes twitter tweets spatially relevant by collecting them within a certain radius of a selected geographic center. This requires using twitter API as well as Google Maps API. The site also allows you to narrow tweets by a keyword or content within those radii, or even resize the search radi.

What’s good for use in group projects: I think the idea of including public opinion through the lens of social media can add an interesting element to a group project, depending on the topic of the project. Additional elements to this website could also be useful, such as a timeline. If you could search a topic like, for example “elections,” specify the geography, and also pin point what dates or times saw the highest number of posts about that topic, it can give a clearer picture of what is on peoples minds at a given time.


-Layout of site is very simple and uncluttered, which leaves little for the user to be confused about.

Clear and simple layout


-I assumed the “I” icon was some type of help option, as  I associated it with “information” or something along those lines. It was not until I was playing with the cite that I realized that is how I returned to the start menu to create a new search. Perhaps a more specific label, like “New Search” would be more clear.


Site Review: Food Desert Locator


The USDA Food Desert Locator provides a nationwide map of census tracts defined as “low-income and low-access” food deserts.  See Image 1.


This mapping tool has very limited function.  Instead of allowing users to choose and manipulate data sets according to their interests, users can only click on a census tract and pull up a dialog box with a standardized list of statistics relating to population, housing, vehicle ownership, and food access.  This interface leaves customization and data analysis completely out of the mapping equation, which, to me, seems like a huge waste of a tech opportunity.  See Image 2.


All info about the map and the site is on the “About the Locator” page, which, on a positive note, links to video and audio tutorials about the map.  Otherwise, it is a fairly boring Web 1.0 text overview of what food deserts are and some limited info on USDA programs to improve food access.  Possibly both the best AND worst feature of this page is that, at the very bottom, it mentions a more extensive website and project on food deserts called “Food Environment Atlas” that USDA also runs.  You’d think they would provide a link here, right?  Nope.  I had to go back to the homepage and find a (small and easy to miss) link there.  See Image 3.

Bassignana Website Evaluation #1


Evaluation of technologies used: This website uses Google maps interface with GIS data on zoning for unincorporated parts of LA county.

Whats good for use in group projects: The use of a toolbar at the top of the map, if created clearly, could be a very useful and user-friendly way to use in other maps such as those of the group project. I will also keep in mind using zoom scales that are commonly-known names and scale types.


– The county, city, community, neighborhood, parcel division of zoom bar: I found this simple descriptor added to the zoom bar to be my favorite unique factor of this map. It really helps give the user a clear idea of the scope of what they are looking at in easily identifiable scales known to the common citizen.

Note "community" labeled as the level map is zoomed to


-For a person who is completely new to zoning issues, this site requires a bit of trial and error to figure out what the map is showing and the use of the different tools provided. For example, the “layers” tool is not completely intuitive to someone not familiar with the layers concept that those who use programs like photoshop or other mapping software’s are immediately familiar with. Perhaps making the map layer options visible as a default and as checkable boxes on the right side of the map would be more user-friendly.

Map layers not immediately obvious to user


Website Review #2- Pulse UC Berkeley Energy Dashboard

Pulse UC Berkeley Energy Dashboard

This website (Image 1) provides an energy dashboard for UC Berkeley’s campus (http://us.pulseenergy.com/UniCalBerkeley/dashboard#/overview). It aims to permanently reduce energy consumption by providing real-time energy use information. It displays historical trends for the campus overall and for individual buildings on campus.

Image 1

The website uses Adobe Flash to display many interesting features. It has pictures of buildings (Image 1) with historical data on the main page. It also has individual webpages with detailed profiles of each buildling’s energy usage (Image 2).

Image 2

From the main page, you can access a Google-supported map of all of the buildings that are monitored across campus (Map 1). Each marker has a title when you hover over it and also has an info window (Map 2). From the info window you can then click on the image of the building and it will take you to a detailed profile page (Image 2).

Map 1

Map 2

User-interface Pros/Cons

Pros: The website is informational and interactive. Energy use is often an ambiguous mess of data that is difficult to interpret and understand. The interface is intuitive and it is easy for a user to click around the website and find what he or she is looking for

Cons: The map portion is relatively small and simple. There could be interesting GIS functions (such as graduated symbols based on each building’s energy use) that could have been integrated in for the marker symbols. Also, the map is tucked away and is not a prominent feature. Image 3 shows that the map is located on the homepage and is accessed by clicking the map symbol. However, it would be better to have access to the map more prominently displayed to help the user orient oneself with the buildings, locations, and energy uses.

Image 3

General Evaluation

Overall, the Pusle Website provides an interesting interactive tool to engage energy consumers.  The website appears rather simple, but based on this week’s coding lessons, I am sure that it took a lot of time to construct! As mentioned previously, the map display is rather boring and could have been better utilized. Also, the info windows do not contain very useful content in them. It would be interesting to integrate energy use trends in to the info window to be able to access a quick cursory view of the historical energy use across different parts of the campus.



Site Review: Justice Atlas of Sentencing and Corrections

Justice Atlas of Sentencing and Corrections



The Justice Atlas of Sentencing and Corrections uses aggregated address data to map criminal justice information by state, county, and zip code. Map data includes the number of people admitted to and released from prison, the number of people on probation or parole, and the costs associated with activities.  The project was created with funding by the Ford Foundation and Open Society Institute. Unfortunately, it only has data for 22 states.


Overall, this site has a very easy to use interface and its representation is data is simple and straightforward. Visually, its consistent use of a single color scheme and minimal text outside of tables and maps allows the user to focus easily on the data without distraction. I found nothing buggy and it responds almost instantaneously to my manipulation of the tables and maps. However, its major drawback is that the frames are slightly off.  This should really be a minor drawback, but what makes it stand out, at least in my mind, is that it should be such a simple feature to fix!  It also stands in stark contrast to the overall utility of the site.  See Image 1.


I like that all navigation on the site happens within the same main frame.  The most important info about the site is accessible by clicking on the  “Atlas”, “Data”, “Use”, “Documents” links in the top left hand corner, which then open dialog boxes in the center of the screen.  See Image 2.


The only exception to this main-frame navigation are seven tutorial videos located in two gray boxes along the left hand information frame of the site, which open in separate windows.  These videos are quite helpful and explain to users in lay terms what the data in the maps and tables mean and include step-by-step guides to finding certain types of data.  See Image 3.


Within the mapping tool itself, the bulk of the data is contained within one menu, which shows a breakdown by sub-location of the chosen data category.  At first glance, it’s not entirely clear what the calculations in each column mean, but clicking on the column header pulls up a one-sentence explanation.  Beneath this main table is a second data window, which allows the user to view census data for each sub-location listed above.  See Image 4.


Week 1 Site Review 2: Crime View Community

Crime View Community is an interactive map that allows the public to view crimes committed within the boundaries ofSanta Monica.  It can show a variety of crimes from homicides to shoplifting.  It is organized so a person can choose to look at the crime by zipcode, city beat, landmark or address.  It is slightly confusing to understand how the website works, even though a page of instructions is included before continuing to the map. 

(location selection)

After selecting a crime, one chooses a boundary. Unless people are aware of where each police beat inSanta Monicais located located, that boundary becomes useless to the general public.  Overall, the website is not easy to navigate.  Date needs to be selected along with type of crime and location, but the website only goes back 90 days in data.  Each option is on a separate screen, which makes it harder for the user to see what was chosen previously. 

(date selection)

Once the results section is reached, one can click on the icon of the crime to get some information, although it is not very useful to the general public. The resulting box shows an incident number, the type of crime the time and the police beat.  Even though the search below was done by zipcode, there is no data on the block or street where that crime occurred.  I think that this is a downfall to data displayed on the website.  The icons, on the other hand, are easy to see, which allows a user to understand the levels of crime within the searched area.

(results section with info box)

I think a take-a-way message from this website for our group is to make sure the website is easy to use, including have all options that need to be selected on one page, in order to avoid the user juggling multiple screens.

Week 1: Site Review – Parking Map for Manhattan NYC, Boston and Seattle


This website aims at providing accurate parking information to the public in Manhattan NYC, Boston and Seattle. Using this website you can find on-street parking/garages/bike racks at a certain time and for a certain period. The parking spots are sorted into four categories according to the time left: More than four hours; Cutting it close; Dangerous; Bad idea.



The searching filters include:




  • Parking Types:

Users can choose among three parking types: On-Street/ Garages/ Bike Racks






I think the inclusion of bike parking conveys the advocacy of biking and thus a healthy notion. Also the color theme of this website – green – is very pleasant and in accordance with that notion.

  • Location:

Users can type in a certain location in the input window, but it doesn’t show matchable results as google map so there is a chance that the database can’t locate the spot input by users.

  • Time:

Users can input starting time and duration of parking needs.

  • Time Left:

The spots are sorted into four categories by the time left: More than 4 hours/ Cutting it close/ Dangerous/ Bad idea

Users can check/uncheck the display boxes besides each category to show the spots with preferred left time they want.




By hovering over the icon, users can know the exact time left of that spot.



The info window contains three tags: Info/ Street/ Remind

  • Info: It shows the address of the spot, and the parking sign that is applied to the spot.



  • Street: It shows google street view and thus gives a very direct visual image of the spot.
  • Remind: This tag is interactive with users. It can send a text reminder if a user inputs his/her phone number and selects a time for that reminder.




The graphics design of this website appeals to me as it is very succinct and intuitive. The icons are simple. The info windows are very informative and illustrative. I think the idea of sending SMS reminder is creative and user-friendly too. I would like to include images in info windows for our group project to make the map more connected to real world. I would also like to try interaction with users in info windows.



When users type in locations, I think it’s better to show possible results – this can often save some typing and make it more user-friendly. For the same reason, I think it’s better to offer selections for time so users can click instead of type. This helps reduce format confusion.








Week 1: Site Review # 1 – Explore Santa Monica

Explore Santa Monica is a website that allows residents and visitors to see locations of bus stops, bike routes, entertainment locations, restaurants and many more things.

I really like the way the landmarks on their map are categorized.  They are simple to click on and off and you can see many points of interest at once, or just one or two.  After browsing for website for a just a few minutes a user feels comfortable and understands how to work with the website.  Unfortunately, a downside is the zoom in function.  Once zoomed in to an area, it is difficult to zoom back out to the original location and while zoomed in, it is hard to see where exactly you have been zoomed to. There are also many little street labels on every block which at first glance is overwhelming and takes a bit to orient oneself and understand the location of the point of interest in reference to the rest of the city.

The great part about this website is the allowance for many different points of interest.  Bus stops, bicycling routes and alternative fuel stations are just a few of the things that can be viewed on this map.  I think the organization of the points in the right-hand column and the detail and abundance of a variety of interest is great because such a map can be of interest to many people.

(shown: bike paths, coffee shops and movie theaters)

I think in general, Explore Santa Monica is a useful interactive map and can be valuable to the residents and visitors of Santa Monica.  Overall, it is easy to use and points are made in easy to see, bright colors. Unfortunately, I do not think this map is advertised enough, and is therefore under

Week 1 Site Reviews – LA/OC Real-time Precipitation

As a field hydrologist-in-training, I often find myself looking at real-time precipitation maps to see when exactly it started to rain, how much it rained, where it’s raining, etc.  These are key questions when you’re waiting to drive out to your study site to collect storm water samples.  I help a PhD student grab Station Fire runoff samples after the huge 2009 fire in the San Gabriel Mountains.  We collected samples every 1-2 hours during and immediately after the storm.  For this reason, I came to depend on real-time precipitation maps.  Currently, I use the Los Angeles Department of Public Works (LADPW) website frequently for research and I also like to check Orange County Department of Public Works’ (OCDPW) website when I’m at home visiting my family.  For this assignment, I decided to evaluate the two websites.


Site #1: Los Angeles County Real-time Precipitation (http://dpw.lacounty.gov/wrd/precip/alert_rain/index.cfm)

LADPW provides real-time precipitation data in this static map.  Gauges throughout the county are displayed in one view and links provide detailed information for each gauge.  A stream network is also provided in the background.  Surrounding county names are also named appropriately.  Above the map are options to change the temporal resolution of the data (last 1 hour, 3 hours, 6 hours, etc).  After clicking on the link, a new map is loaded with the appropriate data.  Freeways are the only spatial referencing tool on this map, aside from the county boundary lines.  I’m not familiar with this map interface (i.e. it’s not Google, Bing, etc).

PROs: maps fits on a typical computer screen, gauges are labeled, full time-series of data at each gauge is available

CONs: no interactive panning, no zooming option, lack of spatial referencing (i.e. topography would be helpful)

Overall, this maps is not very exciting to look at or work with and it would definitely be nice if it had a better interface.   It provides a large amount of data, but the blue bar on the top with the different temporal scales is not quite so easy to find as it is of of the map and it blends in with the browser since there are no spaces before.  A larger font size across the entire website would also be nice.


Site #2: Orange County Real-time Precipitation (http://www.ocwatersheds.com/StormRainFall.aspx)

OCDPW’s website has a more up-to-date look to the way they display their data.  It’s built on a dynamic, simple, and familiar map made by Google (roads, cities, labels, land cover, etc are already in there by default, but you can also change to the satellite or terrain modes).  Gauges are not labeled, but the gauge name and number show up when you hold your cursor over the black rectangles with precipitation values.  When you click on the values, the total precipitation recorded during those different time-scales is shown. A drop-down menu provides the option to look at different temporal scales of data (i.e. 15-minute, 30-minutes, 1 hour, etc) and only the GoogleMap refreshes (not the entire browser).  I believe this makes the website faster to load.

PROs: google maps! (many useful built-in functions),  panning, zooming, display versatility /customization, small panning window in the bottom right corner, option to display only gauges recording data, fast map refreshing speed

CONs: no precipitation time-series (vector)

Overall, the Google Map interface greatly enhances the utility of this website.  These built-in functions are familiar to a wide range of people and there won’t be any learning involved on how to use to the website.  (This saves time and energy.)  Although data is available on a wider range of time-scales, not all of the real-time data is actually provided.  Only totals for each temporal scale are provided; thus, this limits its usefulness for people who need it real-time (e.g. researchers).



I found the OCDPW website to be better than the LADPW website because it’s easier to use, more intuitive, and aesthetically pleasing.  For an average user, it provides enough information.  If I were to build a similar website, I would definitely improve the information on the pop-up to have a link to high temporal resolution data.  With that addition, the OCDPW website would have all the PROs found in both counties’ websites.

Based on this comparison, I definitely would want to have zooming and panning capabilities for my group’s project.  I feel that those two are critical characteristics of a good web map.  I am also a big fan of Google products and would like to incorporate them into my team’s project.