What’s the Map Point?

Business mapping software enables geographic data visualization. This basic web mapping software benefit is very powerful and should consider as you conduct product reviews of mapping software. As you begin using mapping software you will find there are choices you’ll need to make as you import your classified or categorized datasets and display them against a digital map.
What’s the Point?

Dots On a Map
A typical web map import process easily converts your Excel spreadsheet or CSV file into dots or tacks on a map. This process will likely require decisions on your part. For instance, what columns in your spreadsheet are to be used to generate labels? Typically you will not have to worry about addressing columns – that should be handled by the mapping software – but you should consider pulling from other columns to display pertinent information on the map and make it accessible for your map users. For example, if you are creating a call center map you might want to display phone numbers or emails at the hover or click of a mouse. For sales territory mapping perhaps you’ll want to include sales volumes on the label or callout.

As you import data or just after, you should be provided with the opportunity to choose which symbols you’d like to use to represent your business data locations on the map. Often you will be able to import your own symbology (yeah – that’s a word.) Choosing symbology or map symbols requires thinking about how your data falls on the map. Do you have many overlapping points or is your data sparse and spread out? Are you looking at the whole USA or is your geographic scope just a few states? Understanding your data density or distribution will help you decide what symbols to use. Consider traditional smaller circle dots for dense distributions. Perhaps use imported logos for product branding awareness. I don’t particularly like map flags and leaning map tacks but they come in handing if you have overlapping points.

A Brief Word About Your Boss
I’m sure your boss has lot’s of good ideas, like those tacky pictures hung up everywhere. Just remember, the big guy or gal isn’t building this map – you are. Some times your boss’ “do more with less” directives fall flat, and maps may be one of those situations. I hear things like this almost everyday, “Well, my boss wants really big fluffy pink icons that sparkle.” So, listen to his or her vision of what they want to see, but try other ways to display your business maps. You just find your geo-vision to be a little more practical.

Grow Your Own Symbols
Supplement the library of symbols available from your business map’s point color coding tools. You can usually import bit maps or small jpegs to expand your symbol options and communicate more effectively. Often, particular industries have symbol sets available – medical, electric power, and industrial safety symbols come to mind. Look for them online and import them into you mapping application. You can also use Brand labels to identify products, store locations, or large business headquarters. Think Coca-cola, Charmin, or Denny’s.

Map labels and mappoint callouts can also be used to display critical data values associated with that location or area. For example, labels will be associated with zip code, county or state layers. You should be able to display the total revenue received from that area within that label. Callouts are typically associated with points on the map, but you can still append that callout with value averages or totals associated with your data points within jurisdictions. (See video)

Use Administrative Districts Instead
You may also find that what you originally conceived of as a map with point symbols might actually be better expressed by color-coding zip code maps or counties based on that point layer data. In this case, you would turn off the point layer display and simply color code the counties or zip codes based on your data values. For instance, you can display data density by color coding zip codes as progressively hotter based on the location counts per zip code.

When it comes to business mapping software there are many ways to skin the cat. More perhaps then there are actual ways to skin a cat, which I always felt was limited to maybe four or five ways – max.

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About Geoffrey Ives

Geoffrey Ives lives and works in southwestern Maine. He grew up in Rockport, MA and graduated from Colby College. Located in Maine since 1986, Geoff joined DeLorme Publishing in the late 1990's and has since logged twenty-five years in the geospatial software industry. In addition to business mapping, he enjoys playing classical & jazz piano, gardening, and taking walks in the Maine mountains with his Yorkshire Terrier named Skye.
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