Top Ten Geo Stories of 2015

flickr photo shared by Calsidyrose under a Creative Commons (CC BY 2.0) license

My mind has been brewing for some time (since early December) on how to summarize and capture the year in “geo.” I deliberately cast a wide net with “geo” mainly to capture my personal interests in geospatial technology and also geography.  As I’ve been marinating and doing research on this post, I’ve had some great conversations with some folks in the great state of New York (Bill Johnson, Frank Winters, Eric Herman, Jeff Herter, and others on the NYS GAC. Additionally, a great #geowebchat on #topgeostoryof2015 with Alan McConchie helped to broaden my perspectives as well. I’m a GIS Instructional Technologist at a small Liberal Arts College in upstate NY, so my geospatial focus tend be more academic, but also focused on emerging technologies. My goal is to put together an interesting list and I’m hopeful that it helps someone who may have missed one of these stories over the past year. Additionally, another goal for would be some interaction with other like minded folks about these stories to further our collective thinking and understanding (either on Twitter or elsewhere).

Enough small talk folks, let’s jump right in.

10. First Ever GIS Analyst In A Hollywood Movie

That’s right. A character in a movie actually is a “GIS guy.” He also tries to explain what he does a couple times in the movie. If you are involved with GIS or mapping, you know how difficult it can be to describe what you do to others. The name of the movie is “What We Do In The Shadows.” (I watched it on HBO Go). Spoiler alert: you can also see all the parts where Stewart describes his job in the youtube clip above. I personally think he does a good job describing GIS, and is treated a little unfairly by the crowd of vampires. Definitely check out the entire movie.

flickr photo shared by Mike Licht, under a Creative Commons (CC BY 2.0) license

9. Register Your Drone

The big news in drones for 2015 came late. It came in the form of a “drone registration” program, which, as of this writing, 45,000 people had registered. Folks to pay stiff fines if not registered by Feb. 19, 2016. Interestingly, the AMA (Academic of Model Aeronautics) is recommending to their members, primarily hobbyists, to hold off on registering. In other drone news, 2,672 folks were approved for commercial uses of drones as of mid-December. This approval takes the form of a section 333. Overall… 2015 was a huge year for drones and the emergent regulatory environment.

flickr photo shared by dno1967b under a Creative Commons (CC BY 2.0) license

8. National Geographic Sells Out

In 2015, Fox became a 73% stakeholder in National Geographic Partners. While this was a long time coming for NatGeo due to decreased readership, the layoffs hurt, and the brands’ integrity has been brought into question. There was quite a bit of chatter online when this all happened, and I am curious what the future holds.

flickr photo shared by Javier Arce ☄ under a Creative Commons ( BY-NC-ND ) license

7. Mapping Startups Rule 2015: CartoDB, Mapbox, & Mapzen

Mapping based startups made some real strides in 2015. A lot of folks were hired this year and these companies are picking up some serious talent. Other location based companies made great strides in 2015 as well: Waze and Uber all showed the world that there is still room for innovation in Location Based Technologies. Make sure to check out the offerings from CartoDB, Mapbox and Mapzen.

flickr photo shared by Ben Husmann under a Creative Commons (CC BY 2.0) license

6. Google Kills Some Mapping Solutions

Google Earth Enterprise and Google Maps Engine are shutting down. Esri, CartoDB, and others were quick to partner and announce transition programs for former Google customers. My understanding is that some of these enterprise solutions require a lot of Google employee handholding, and perhaps focusing on API’s makes more sense for Google’s hands-off business model.

flickr photo shared by U.S. Department of the Interior under a Creative Commons (CC BY-SA 2.0) license

5. Obama Signs Funding for a Well Rounded Education, Includes Geography

I’ve long known that geography was an unfunded mandate under No Child Left Behind (interpretation…it’s important, but not important enough to fund it). I dug up this post from 2003 to show it. Long story short, after 12 years, president Obama signs the “Every Student Succeeds Act” which gives some opportunities for funding geography education. The Association for American Geographers (AAG) is optimistic about the inclusion of geography and potential funding opportunities, as outlined here. You can see some of AAG’s work to support Geography Education here.

flickr photo shared by alexchaucer under a Creative Commons (CC BY-SA 2.0) license

4. Digital Map Storytelling

It seemed like everywhere I was seeing story maps in 2015. Esri provides some nice tools for story maps, story journals, and ArcGIS Online is making this type of data exploration and storytelling even easier. But, they are not the only platforms around. Map Story continued to make strides in 2015, and a student of mine did a comparison on some of the other platforms for digital map storytelling as well, featuring Storymap JS, Odyssey.JS, Omeka Neatline, and the Esri Story maps. I’m impressed with the new interfaces and ease for building map based story websites that I saw over the last year.

flickr photo shared by alexchaucer under a Creative Commons (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0) license

3. New Indexing System(s) for the World’s Locations

In 2015 we saw What3Words emerge as a new way of describing locations in the world. Move over Lat/Long, because 3 random words are here to reference every 3 meter by 3 meter square on earth. In 2015 we started to see w3w integration, and you can browse industry applications examples. While a three word indexing system is an innovation in itself, we also saw the truly universal language of emoji applied to a global reference system as What3Emoji also emerged in 2015.

flickr photo shared by velkr0 under a Creative Commons ( BY ) license

2. The Promise of Open Source

I’m not sure exactly when it happened, but QGIS hit some sort of tipping point in the last year, and it is becoming a standalone viable a solution as GIS desktop software, and even a useful teaching tool. Here’s a great comparison of ArcGIS and QGIS that was done in November this year. Open source geospatial technology is not new, but in 2015 I saw some great strides in application. Not just in desktop, but in the deployment of maps on the web. A workable geospatial stack can produce beautiful, and functional, web-based mapping solutions. FOSS4G continues to grow and it’s not going away. Look for more growth and more beautiful maps on open platforms in 2016. Mapbox released Mapbox Studio, based on Open Source GIS and featuring some smooth vector based maps. OpenStreetMap volunteers and professionals and the Humanitarian OpenStreetMap Team (HOT) came out in a big way to help map after the Nepal Earthquake in 2015. Was 2015 THE year for Open Source Geospatial? Perhaps.

flickr photo shared by archer10 (Dennis) (63M Views) under a Creative Commons (CC BY-SA 2.0) license

1. The Auto Industry Embraces Geospatial

I’ve been hearing about Google’s Self Driving Cars for years, but it was a little bit of a surprise to see a German auto group consisting of Audi, BMW, and Daimler purchase a geospatial company in 2015. The company is called HERE, and they have roots in Navteq via acquisition by Nokia, and they were purchased for $3.1 billion. The German automakers aren’t the only ones, as Toyota plans their own realtime digital video maps. So who is Google working with? It looks like it’s Ford. And it looks like we may see an Apple self driving car announcement in 2016. Don’t forget that Tesla is creating their own maps as is Uber. As self driving cars and super accurate, realtime, photo and sensor based maps are created of the world’s roads, I wonder what the long term impact on geospatial technology will be?


Did more happen this year in the geospatial space than in other years? I think so. An auto company buys a GIS company, and drones now have to be registered like cars. Cartographic expert Natgeo stumbles as new companies focus on beautifying digital maps. Google kills mapping applications as Obama includes geography in a well rounded education. You can find me in January learning more open source GIS at stability.peanuts.think. :)

Special thanks to Joseph Kerski, Adena Schutzberg, and Doug Belshaw for some thoughts about how and where to publish my first blog post of 2016.

You can find this original blog post at

Now Hiring for Spring 2015

Now Hiring Text

Get yourself a job for next semester and continue growing your GIS, Mapping, and Data Visualization skills while helping others! (Also, we will be working on some great applied community geography mapping projects this spring, so join the team to be part of that work!)

The GIS Center is currently accepting applications for 2 lab assistant positions for Spring 2015. Interested? Apply now! We aim to hold some interviews in person this week and get folks hired before winter break.

Job Requirements:

Hands on experience with multiple software and hardware applications, specifically ArcGIS and QGIS. Communication skills for working on a team and assisting others are essential. We are looking for an independent, self motivated, student who is able to learn and adopt new technologies. The student must be reliable, able to manage their time, and be interested in expanding their software knowledge, specifically around geospatial technology.


Job Description:

The student assistant works to support students and faculty while working in the GIS Center while also working on independent projects. Projects may involve spatial analysis, web based mapping, developing tutorials, programming, advanced GIS, and applied community geography project work.

Study Break – GeoGame Night in the GIS Center

Flyer showing image of game and text

For more information, see the Facebook event page.

Celebrating GIS Day at Skidmore College


World Map and Happy GIS Day written on a whiteboard
GIS Day is celebrated every year on the 3rd Wednesday in November

The Skidmore College GIS (Geographic Information Systems) Center for Interdisciplinary Research hosted a series of “open to the public” GIS Day events on November 18th and 19th, 2015. Geographic Information Systems is the platform for mapping data analysis and visualization for decision making. GIS Day, according to the website, “…provides an international forum for users of geographic information systems (GIS) technology to demonstrate real-world applications that are making a difference in our society.”

The Skidmore events kicked off with a webinar on “The Future of Mapping with CartoDB” (see CartoDB webinars here).  Andy Eschbacher highlighted some of his favorite CartoDB maps (such as tweets mentioning sunrise) showed us how to visualize Twitter data, and walked us through an exercise visualizing sea surface temp.

The next day Richard Welty, former Board member of the OpenStreetMap US Foundation, presented to students about the OpenStreetMap project and HOT (Humanitarian OpenStreetMap Team).

At 5:30pm Alex Chaucer introduced the GIS Center and welcomed a group of over 30 students to Skidmore’s GIS Day Program. He introduced the GIS Center and spoke about a new initiative called Community Geography, which will be focused on using GIS tools such as GPS and Census Data to aide non-profits in Saratoga County.

Don Meltz presenting at GIS Day
Don Meltz presenting at Skidmore College GIS Day

Shortly after, Don Meltz, a planning and GIS consultant, presented on the types of work he does in the region. As a planning consultant with his firm, he mainly works with government officials in mainly rural small towns. His “day in the life” presentation was geared to help students understand what’s it’s like to do GIS and planning as a consultant.

After Don’s presentation, Devin Rigolino from Saratoga PLAN presented on the benefits of utilizing GIS as a non-profit for land conservation. Specifically, he showed how GIS was used to prioritize lands to save, like connected farmlands, but also how GIS and mapping is used as an outreach tool on Saratoga PLAN’s website.

Finally, the end of the program featured some hands on emerging geospatial technology, such as a toy drone, a mapping robot named “Ozobot” and some augmented reality with the durovis dive. Folks who stayed until the end enjoyed hands on experience with these new “geospatial” technologies.

Special thanks to CartoDB for providing some amazing swag and to Skidmore College’s Office of Community Service for providing pizza for this event.

Skidmore College GIS Day Is This Week!

Skidmore College GIS Day Schedule of events for Nov. 18th and 19th, 2015

Come stop by the GIS Center in Scribner Library 227 this week to learn more about GIS and mapping! Here’s the link to the FB event to share with others.

Which Story Mapping Platform is Right For You?

Storymap Smackdown

I’ve been working on comparing varying story mapping platforms over the past few weeks on my blog, with the end goal being to create a guide for folks who need a story map but aren’t sure which platform will work best. Four of the most popular story mapping platforms available–Esri Storymaps, StoryMap JS, Neatline, and Odyssey.js–can all give your narrative a geographical context, and each one has perks and features that can further elevate the story you want to tell.

StoryMap JS
If your project simply needs a generic map with a narrative, then StoryMap JS is hands down the easiest option. There is little in the way of customization (the only real choice is the base map), but the authoring tool is very easy to use. One possible complaint about StoryMap JS is that there is no way to change the color of pins that are used, but to be honest, the color palette that StoryMap JS comes with is really attractive. If you don’t need complex functionality, this will probably be the best looking option. It also scales well on small screens, so it can be embedded on sites that are intended to be used on mobile devices.

StoryMap JS

Odyssey.js is another option if your project is simple; like StoryMap JS, it doesn’t allow much in the way of customization. The difference is that Odyssey.js uses a markdown language, which can be a real turn off if you don’t like working with anything resembling code. However, you can add multiple points and images for a single portion of the narrative, so if HTML and CSS don’t seem scary, then Odyssey can be pretty useful. Additionally, Odyssey is the only platform with support for Torque, so if you need time-based animations then Odyssey is worth considering.


Neatline, unlike Odyssey.js and StoryMap JS, has many more moving parts. If you’re familiar with Omeka–or even better, if your resources for your project are already part of an Omeka exhibit–then Neatline is an excellent choice. If you want to incorporate a timeline, or when there is a ton of metadata involved that you would like to feature, then Neatline shines. It has the added benefit of allowing the use of historical maps laid over the base map for reference, and has support for vector data. A drawback is you may need web hosting which supports Omeka and Neatline if you don’t already have it up and running.


Esri Storymaps
Esri Storymaps are the most heavy duty platforms of the bunch, mostly due to their robust GIS roots and well fleshed out feature list. The Esri web apps can all be built on an Esri Web map, meaning that all of the processing power available from ArcGIS Online can make its way into the final project. There are a few different platform layouts available from Esri, such as the Storymap Tour, the Storymap Journal, and the Storymap Series, as well as a wide variety of other web apps that may end up being more useful to your project than a story map.

Esri Storymap

When I tested these platforms, I used a basic narrative and picture combo about the history of jazz music, which had four essential components: locations, a text based description, a general time period, and an image for each. My goal was to use the exact same data and put it into each of the platforms listed above for an apples to apples comparison, and then share my experiences, which you can find here.

So what about your project? Let’s dive into a hypothetical story map in which you toured Europe and decided to make a story map detailing the trip.

I want to…

Just tell a story with some map pins and pictures
Since this is a fairly simple project, Odyssey.js would work very well, as the markdown would not be too complicated. Alternatively, if the markdown language Odyssey.js uses is still a little too intimidating, the StoryMap is a great bet, due to its user friendly authoring tool.

Tell a story using some other media that I hosted elsewhere
StoryMap JS allows users to embed media from sites such as YouTube and Vimeo, so you can easily include video taken during the trip. StoryMap JS even allows the use of SoundCloud files, so you could record and include audio narrations, or recordings taken on location.

Use my GPS data to tell the story
If you used a GPS tracker during your trip (or even tweeted plenty of geolocated tweets), then you can use that data to create animations of your route using Odyssey.js and Torque. The process of grooming information into something that CartoDB can use for Torque is a little more technical than the previous scenarios, but the end result can look very cool.

Craft a narrative around items that I stored in an Omeka database
What if you have an Omeka database with various paintings that your viewed during your trip? Neatline is an extension for Omeka, which has the downside of being very complicated if you don’t already use Omeka; however, it becomes a natural choice if you already have an Omeka database. Using the items from your Omeka database is as easy as loading Neatline and linking it to the database.

Tell a story, but with some harder data
Imagine that during your trip you decide that your story will focus on the economic differences throughout the Eurozone; being in Greece was much different than being in Germany. Esri offers many datasets through ArcGIS Online that can augment your narrative, and it’s easy to bring your own data in from the ArcMap desktop software. That way, heavy analysis can be done in ArcMap, and then when that data is brought into ArcGIS Online a story map can be made to help explain that analysis.

Do something else!
If you have some other story map that you’d like to make and aren’t sure of how to go about it, get in touch with us through our Facebook page, and we’ll help you get started.

Building a better trail map…


Skidmore College North Woods Trail Map
A map of the Skidmore College North Woods trails that was updated in Summer 2015

For a long time, the trail map for the old Skidmore College North Woods Trail Map has been not up to my personal cartographic standards. Originally developed by Bob Jones and Alex Chaucer a few years ago, multiple versions had been edited and what was the North Woods map had lost it’s original lustre and shine. But today, we have a new map that we all can be proud of.

Working the North Woods Steward, Katie Cuthbert, we took on the challenge of updating the old map. Features we have added: consistent fonts, iconography for kiosks and parking, stakeholder logos, simplified layout, clean trail marker numbers for on trail location, and trail length estimates. We hope you find the map useful.

Can you think of anything else you would like to see on the map? Feel free to add a comment or send a suggestions to achaucer AT I’ll also post a copy of the map on our GIS Center Facebook page if you want to comment there.

Happy Trails!


Summer Progress Update June 15, 2015

Completed installation of new wall sized map in the GIS Center at Skidmore College
Completed installation of new wall sized map in the GIS Center at Skidmore College

As of June 15, 2015, the summer is off to a good start in the GIS Center. We have completed the first module in the Data Science Toolkit from Johns Hopkins, and are set up for utilizing R and Github. There has been numerous GIS requests for summer research projects which are keeping the daily flow of traffic moving in the GIS Center. Additionally, we have begun some collaborations with the Sustainability Office and the MDOCS Storytellers’ Institute, supporting their mapping needs, as well as assisting with the Urban Forestry project website redesign. Physically in the GIS Center, we have a new full size wall map and a new flat file map cabinet in our printer room (Thank you to the great facilities folks, George Sperow and Michael Wicks, who assisted with the install). Alex Jackson, the Lab Assistant for Summer 2015, has completed 6 ESRI Virtual Training courses, including Python for Everybody and a rigorous course in spatial analysis, and earned certificates in expanding his geospatial knowledge.

Installation of new wall sized map in the GIS Center at Skidmore College
Installation of new wall sized map in the GIS Center at Skidmore College

Creative Commons License
GIS Center Wall Map Installation Photos by Alex Chaucer is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.
Based on a work at and
Permissions beyond the scope of this license may be available by emailing achaucer AT

Researching Data Analytics for GIS

This summer in the GIS Center we are expanding the center’s capacity as we research data analytics in the context of GIS and data science related programming languages. To this end, we are focusing on two emerging geospatial tools, ArcGIS Online and CartoDB for web based mapping applications, as well as adopting R, Python, and SQL for more in depth data analysis.

In order to accomplish our goals, we currently have one main project that will be a collaboration with another summer student researcher that focuses on CartoDB and applying SQL queries for a local community project called the Sustainable Saratoga Urban Forestry Project. We will also be learning about database design through an online textbook and tutorials.

Additionally, we will be utilizing online ESRI training to explore the Python capabilities in ArcGIS Desktop, while also utilizing CodeAcademy for Python training, and an online course through the University of Michigan called Programming for Everybody (Python).

For R training, we are focusing on a series of courses through Johns Hopkins called the data science specialization, which introduces a data science toolkit, and quickly focuses on R for working with large datasets. We may also supplement with a course offered through codeschool as an introduction to R.

By the end of the summer, our hopes are that we are able to have an understanding of more advanced GIS storytelling and visualization, while also having a broad understanding of industry-standard data science tools and how they apply to geospatial data sets for analysis.

If you are interested in following along on our summer progress, please visit our Facebook page.


Image attribution: “Popular Science – Process” by Flickr user Jer Thorp shared under a Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic License (CC by 2.0)


JOB POSTINGS – Now hiring people who want to change the world.

Now Hiring


Image Credit Nathan Stephans on Flickr.  CC BY-SA 2.0Some Rights Reserved. Link to original.

I’m not kidding.

In the Data Visualization and Mapping Center (Library 227) we take that seriously. We know that to change the world, we need to make informed decisions. We know that to make good decisions, you need to communicate your data effectively. The best way to communicate your data effectively is to visualize it and present it in a compelling way to your audience.

We have three openings currently posted for jobs relating to the Center.

1) Summer position:
Summer Instructional Technology Assistant – GIS
Hours: This SUMMER 8:30AM to 4:30PM, Monday through Friday
Pay: $13/hour
Contact: Apply online at the link above

Description: The individual in this position will assist with hands on mapping and data visualization related activities, in the field as well as working with web-based mapping platforms, such as ArcGIS Online and CartoDB. They will also be involved with data collection (Fulcrum), backing up data, digitizing instructional materials, and assisting with GIS analysis. The ideal candidate may also have WordPress, Adobe design experience, and some applied web-based programming experience. The ability to communicate with people of varying levels of technical ability is a must. The candidate needs to be organized, reliable,and able to work independently. This position will assist as needed for drop in requests in the Academic Technologies Center or GIS Center.

2) Lab Assistant
Hours: 5-10 hours a week for the academic semesters in the 2015/2016 school year
Pay: $9.50/hour
Contact: email to set up interview

Description: The student assistant works to support students and faculty while working in the lab while also working on independent projects. All assistants will teach at least one technology workshop each semester. Projects may involve web based mapping, developing tutorials, programming, advanced GIS, and applied community project work.

3) Instructional Technologist Apprentice in the NY6 ITAP Program
Hours: 10 hours a week for the academic semesters in the 2015/2016 school year
Pay: $9.50
Contact: Apply above at the link above

Description: This position works closely with instructional technologists and faculty to perform the following: Assist faculty and staff with software applications and digital content creation (i.e. Blackboard, WordPress, iMovie, iPhoto, Adobe Creative Suite, QuickTime, Garageband, etc.) This apprenticeship position is a part of the NY6 ITAP initiative which provides the student with a paraprofessional experience in the field of instructional technology. The incumbent will participate in a structured training program that will be offered collaboratively by the New York Six Educational Technology Group. Ongoing communications, collaborations, and meetings (face-to-face and virtual) will take place with other apprentices in the program.

If you are interested please take the first step and apply now. If you have any questions, please contact

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