Friday, June 24, 2016

Help needed in cataloguing maps and web services!

MapDeck.com, in cooperation with aus-emaps.com, is embarking on the task of creating the largest public catalogue of ready-to-use, spatially referenced information. 

If you publish or know of any interesting web services with base maps, satellite/aerial imagery or thematic overlays you can be a part of this project by submitting a list of your favourite web services as a response to this post.

You can also help fund the initiative by signing up as a MapDeck user and creating catalogue entries yourself after purchasing the Map Layers Manager tool!



The objective is to create a human validated list of what is useful and working, and most importantly, that can be put to immediate use. That is, to catalogue spatial information that can be mixed and mashed to deliver personalised location intelligence for professionals as well as novice users.

The secondary objective is to validate and improve what is already known about the catalogued resources. Unfortunately, formal metadata for the majority of spatial information tend to be either non-existent or lacks any useful details. So, compiling complete and accurate details requires a group effort.


MapDeck platform can also be used to distribute pdf maps and data files, either directly or as part of value added online content. So, any links to potential sources of such information is also most welcome.

Please visit the mapdeck.com front page to preview what has already been catalogued. And if you would like to create your own records in the catalogue, or start using the information yourself, please email your request for an invite code to info@aus-emaps.com.

Wednesday, June 8, 2016

Australian Postcodes Map 2016

Postcodes are by far the most popular location reference for business purposes. However, the definition of postcode boundaries tend to be ambiguous due to the various methodologies applied during creation and because there are many versions of the data in circulation at any particular point in time.

In order to address some of that ambiguity, MapDeck has recently released the 2016 version of Australian postcode boundaries generated from open source information according to the rules defined by the Australia Post (which, theoretically, the organisation itself follows in defining the postcodes but in practice, it may not always be the case). The dataset is available for free perusal with MapDeck apps or can be downloaded in GIS format for a small fee.

Now there is also a free interactive map provided by MapDeck that presents the latest 2016 postcode boundaries on a base map with detailed road network and topographic features (sourced from the Open Street Map data).  For reference, we have also included Postal Areas 2011 boundaries (postcodes equivalent from the Australian Bureau of Statistics, created for use with 2011 Census data) and a Victoria-only version of postcodes published by the Victorian Department of Environment, Land, Water and Planning in April 2016.

Click to initiate the map (login required to view - contact aus-emaps.com to register)

However, MapDeck is all about personalising maps and spatial analysis, so users are not limited only to this map to view and interact with postcode boundaries. In fact, anyone can “roll their own” map, according to individual preferences, using the free Thematic Mapper Basic app. The app allows you to create interactive maps with a myriad of base map layers as well as other contextual information catalogued in MapDeck and available for immediate use.

Users who have the full version of Thematic Mapper can save personal copies of the map. That is, either edit the original map by adding or changing the base map layers and other data, or create a new one from scratch, then save the version as their own copy. These maps can be shared with other users as well. 

All in all, the map presented today is just an appetizer to demonstrate our latest postcode boundaries in the context of other spatially referenced information but also to inspire you to explore MapDeck functionality and personalise available content to your individual requirements.

Contact our Australian support team on info@aus-emaps.com for an invite code to join MapDeck. 

Monday, June 6, 2016

Data viewing in MapDeck

There are two ways to view data on MapDeck: either in a preview mode, using Data Viewer app, or via one of the purpose-built applications, such as Thematic Mapper or Sales Area Management Tool.
 

MapDeck’s functionality is broader than that of a traditional web-mapping application. That is, MapDeck is a consolidated publishing, cataloguing and information visualisation platform all in one. It enables specialised apps and associated data to be put to immediate use, the user requiring nothing more than just a web browser. 

Spatial data (vector geometry and image layers), tabular data (attributes), graphic and other files, as well as apps, are all listed in the MapDeck catalogue independently of each other. It is up to the individual user to find and select the right content that is suited for a particular purpose.

So, for example, if the primary interest of the user is in graphic/pdf maps or spatial data in the original GIS format, these files can be downloaded to a user computer and then opened with the user's favourite desktop software.

Any other table, map layer or vector data published on MapDeck can be previewed on its own in a generic Data Viewer app (provided you have access to that data set - that is, you are the owner or it is either a public dataset or you have subscribed to it). In other words, Data Viewer is a default app which displays content of a table, map layer or vector data set when a user clicks on a particular product.



Functionality of Data Viewer is very basic. In particular, vector geometry will be rendered in a preview window with a default style only and it will be presented on its own, with no option to display other contextual information. However, the data can be interacted with. That is, users are able to zoom in and out, pan the map and click on individual features to view attribute information, and vector features will respond to mouse-over events. Switching from “Map View” to “Table View” allows previewing attribute information for a given vector geometry and downloading it as a .csv file.



Image map layers are displayed in Data Viewer as an interactive map with pan and zoom functions enabled. Complex map layers, that is those comprising two or more sub-layers, will display just the top-most layer in Data Viewer and there is no option to switch between the sub-layers in a preview mode.



Attribute data tables can be previewed in Data Viewer’s Table View window.

Another option to view private and public tables, map layers, vector geometry, as well as compiled information directly in a browser, is to load them into a relevant MapDeck app.

MapDeck apps are purpose built tools that enable performing one or more (but very specific) tasks, like creating an interactive map (Thematic Mapper), defining and managing franchise or sales territories (Sales Area Management Tool), generating map images for printing in large format (Map Image Capture Tools) or configuring external web map services as MapDeck image map layers (Map Layers Management Tool). More options are coming.  

Once the user selects and starts a particular app, relevant data can be added and visualised using a common process which comprises of two steps: searching for content via the in-bulit Finder function and then selecting the item to add to the app.



Thereafter, each app deals with imported data in a unique way. For example, Thematic Mapper allows adding multiple image map layers as well as vector geometry layers, which then can be styled according to user preferences. Sales Area Management Tool only allows swapping one-base image map layer with another but it allows applying unlimited number of styles to imported vector polygon geometry to highlight different sales or franchise territories. And Map Image Capture Tool displays only information preconfigured and saved as Thematic Mapper or Sales Area Management Tool infosets.

At first, viewing data and information on MapDeck may appear as complex and ambiguous process – after all, you have to find what you are looking for in a large catalogue and then you have to create your own compilation of information rather than being given “a ready-made map”.  However, once you are familiar with the process, it is a very simple and straightforward task.

Just remember, to preview the data – all you need to do is click on a start icon to launch it in Data Viewer. For everything else is a Mapdeck app - launch it first, then add the data you are interested in. As simple as that!



Monday, May 9, 2016

Explaining holes in Postcodes 2016 coverage

When displaying Postcode Boundaries, Australia 2016 on a map you will notice that there is a lot of “empty space”. The expectation is that postcodes should cover the entire country, yet this is not the case for the reasons explained below.

Defining postcode boundaries should be a straightforward exercise since:
  • Australia Post officially declares that “postcode numbers are applied only to officially gazetted localities”, and since
  • gazetted localities cover, without overlaps, almost the entire continent, therefore
  • combining gazetted localities with a list of allocated postcodes should allow creating postcode boundaries that cover Australia without the gaps.
Simple, right? Not quite…


Australian Postcodes 2016 coverage

The reality is that:
  • There are places around Australia which do not have officially gazetted localities. For example, there are places with no permanent population (in the case of North West South Australia for example) or which have no formal recognition by local authorities for whatever reasons (in the case of Canberra surrounds). Hence, no postcodes can be allocated to those areas.
  • There are places which have gazetted localities but, for unknown reasons, those locations are not recognised by the Australia Post. So, they do not have postcodes assigned to them. This happens mainly in NT and Queensland but also for locations such as national parks or similar, mostly remote and uninhabited places.
  • There are places which are not officially gazetted localities so have no defined boundaries, yet they have assigned postcodes by the Australia Post. Point in case is the locality of Majura near Canberra with the allocated postcode number 2609. To make things more complicated, this locality also covers the officially gazetted locality of Pialligo (with the same allocated postcode number so, no big drama) but it also partially overlaps Canberra’s suburb of Watson which has a postcode number 2602.
  • Then there may be cases of locations that could be on the Australia Post postcode list but are not referenced with a postcode number in publicly available version of the list. So, such locations cannot be identified outright - unfortunately, Australia Post does not license freely its information.

As you can see, despite all the good intentions, the reality is quite messy. Therefore, the only way to deal with this complexity is to stick to a strict definition of what postcode boundaries should be. That is, to the Australia Post defined relationship between postcode numbers and locations where: “Postcodes are only allocated to localities officially gazetted by State land agencies”.

This way all major metropolitan areas are well covered with postcode boundaries and the issue of “gaps in coverage” is limited mainly to small, rural communities. The downside is a map that appears to have large chunks of Australia not covered in postcodes.


Using postcodes as a “widely recognisable and understood spatial reference to locations” is a deceivingly attractive proposition. In particular:
  • postcode numbers are part of an address, hence, theoretically, postcodes can be easily linked to specific locations;
  • everybody knows their postcode so it is very easy to solicit that information from clients or respondents to a survey, or from persons enquiring about a service, etc.
  • it is easy to use postcode groups to define sales territories or franchise areas,
  • postcodes are convenient for information aggregation purposes, without the need to resort to time consuming and potentially expensive geocoding of input data,
  • postcodes are large enough to provide good level of anonymity, so input data cannot be attributed to its sources (ie. inputs can be “confidentialised”),
  • at the same time, postcodes are small enough to highlight differences or similarities between local neighbourhoods. 

However, using postcodes boundaries is not without some serious issues due to:
  • ambiguity of how postcode numbers refer to locations,
  • existence of many versions of data at any particular point in time, and
  • their constant change.

You will find additional informaion on the limitations of postcode boundaries in our earlier articles on this topic:

Australian Postcodes User Guide
Comparing ABS Postal Areas 2011 and Postcode Boundaries 2016


All in all, gaps in Postcode Boundaries, Australia 2016 are the result of the methodology applied in creation of this dataset. MapDeck version of postcode boundaries may not suit all purposes and users should have a proper understanding of the limitations of this data set if they intend to make any use of it. 

Our recommendation is that, it is best to avoid postcodes (any version) and use instead more voluminous (in terms of count and data size) but more stable over time gazetted localities boundaries.

Friday, April 29, 2016

Comparing ABS Postal Areas 2011 and Postcodes 2016

Postal area boundaries, created by the ABS for the purpose of publishing 2011 Census statistics, are becoming dated. No updates have been announced as yet so, the question is, should you still be using this dataset?

You will need to consider two issues to answer this question:
  • what data are you going to reference to postcode boundaries, and;
  • whether there is a material difference between the 2011 representation of postcodes and their more up-to-date version in the area of your interest.

Despite the fact that ‘Postal Areas’ data is more than five years old, it is still the only option to use with Census 2011 statistics. It will be more than a year before any data from the upcoming Census 2016 is made available. So, the 2011 version of ‘Postal Areas’ will continue to be relevant for a while yet.

However, if you are working with other data, such as ATO statistics or recent survey data that reference respondent postcodes, then the more up to date representation of postcodes is the recommended option - choose ‘Postcode Boundaries, 2016’ edition then.

Both datasets are available for free perusal with MapDeck apps and the 2016 version can be downloaded in .shp format for a small fee.

Rural Victoria: Postal Areas 2011 in red and Postcodes 2016 in blue


The difference between these two versions of postcode boundaries datasets can be quite dramatic in rural areas (as the above example demonstrates) but it is generally less pronounced in long-established metropolitan areas.

Sydney Metro: Postal Areas 2011 in red and Postcodes 2016 in blue


You can compare how both boundaries  match in specific locations using a free version of the Thematic Mapper app (available to registered MapDeck users). Contact aus-emaps.com for an invite code to sign up for the MapDeck platform.

Thursday, April 21, 2016

Australian postcode boundaries 2016

A new, free dataset showing spatial extents of Australian postcodes has just been released for use with MapDeck apps.

Australian Postcode Boundaries are approximations of Australia Post postcodes and are current as of February 2016.  The product is based on a collection of open source data, such as recently released PSMA Suburbs - Localities February 2016 data and listings of postcodes by locality from Geonames.org.

Australian Postcode Boundaries 2016 edition


Gazetted Localities with Postcodes, Australia Feb 2016, a by-product generated in the production of postcode boundaries, is released as a separate product.

All input data has been cleaned and topologically corrected so postcode and locality boundaries are suitable for further spatial transformation and reprocessing.

Both datasets: Postcode Boundaries, Australia 2016 and Gazetted Localities with Postcodes, Australia Feb 2016, have undergone a significant transformation and are considered value added products. They can be downloaded from MapDeck in SHP format for a small fee.

Postcodes are very popular and convenient reference to locations. They are often used for publishing social statistics as well as for defining sales, service, franchise or dealership territories.

There is no single, authoritative representation of Australian postcode boundaries and several different versions are in use. For example, Australian Bureau of Statistics publishes in 5 year intervals a set of Postal Area boundaries, specifically for use with Census statistics. These boundaries are compiled using Statistical Area Level 1 geometry. They approximate official Australia Post postcode coverage at the time of publishing. MapDeck users can access this version of postcode boundaries under the name of Postal Areas, Australia 2011. It is free for use with MapDeck apps.

There are also a number of private companies that produce and regularly update their own versions of postcode boundaries. These can be imported into MapDeck for private use if required. Since the cost of obtaining these products can be substantial, we recommend comparing and weighing the benefits and limitations of each option against your specific requirements.

Tuesday, March 1, 2016

Postcodes maps now available on MapDeck.com

You can now access the aus-emaps.com series of PDF postcode maps for Australian Capital Cities and for State and Territories on MapDeck platform.

Payments can be made by Visa and MasterCard and the simplified purchasing process means that you will have access to the information in under a minute. An itemised tax invoice is automatically provided for your records. 



The current collection of PDF maps is very small to start with but we will be adding more items as suitable content becomes available. To preview the list of PDF maps in the catalogue just go to the mapdeck.com front page, click on the filter icon with two arrows pointing in opposing directions and select the “file” option. 

MapDeck is very versatile in terms of the content it catalogues and serves.  In particular, it allows for the search and discovery of not only apps and data for use online, but also for the distribution of file-based content, like PDF maps or data in spreadsheet or spatial formats which can be downloaded for printing or use in desktop software.  Content on MapDeck can be free to use or download, or can be provided on a commercial basis as time-based subscriptions or one-off payments.

This capability allows any publisher of spatial web services, PDF maps or spatially referenced data and information, the opportunity to explore MapDeck as a potential new distribution channel.

Remember: good information is an essential ingredient of success… locate, map, act!

Contact aus-emaps.com on info@aus-emaps.com for an invite code to sign up and create your personal account on MapDeck.