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December 13th, 2010
Web GIS: Principles and Applications

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Web_GIS_medGeographic information systems (GIS) have evolved from being desktop focused software to become internet oriented and offered as web services. Today many people actively engage GIS through web services delivered over the internet. These activities are continuing to expand and will undoubtedly offer the widest variety of spatial information services well into the future, providing a wide variety of GIS functionality.

Web GIS: Principles and Applications


Pinde Fu
Jiulin Sun

ESRI Press

ISBN: 978-1589482456 2010 312 pages

Review by Jeff Thurston

Geographic information systems (GIS) have evolved from being desktop focused software to become internet oriented. Today many people actively engage GIS through web services delivered through the internet. These activities are continuing to expand and will undoubtedly offer the widest variety of spatial information services well into the future. 

Authors Pinde Fu and Jiulin Sun have been working in this new digital realm, practicing and developing leading edge GIS applications for many years. Accordingly, they are well positioned to discuss, debate and deliver an overview of the current state of Web GIS available for global users.

While many GIS related books discuss what these software are, very few of them talk about the connection of the world wide web and GIS. The opening chapters of this book discuss and describe this relationship, helping readers to conceptualize and understand what is meant by Web GIS. “GIS is seen as the supporting science and technology for GeoDesign” and “Web GIS is unlocking the power of the technology to a wider audience.” One might very well argue that GIS has evolved more fully and to become more useful worldwide as a result of the GIS + Web.

The authors put forward the case that this combination is delivering further innovation because new business models are arising through the use of these services. “Web GIS is a powerful tool for e-government” and, as they point out, gives rise to a further extension toward mashups and consumer users. That in turn is leading toward different activities such as crowdsourcing and social media connections that further develop upon the professional tools, technologies and services being delivered in a combined Web GIS environment. 

This book dives into terms like HTML, Server Side Technology, Web Application Server, Browser Side Applications – JAVA, AJAX, FLEX, AMF, JSON and XML. It does explain what ‘mobile GIS’ means in terms of rich applications oriented toward Apple and Trimble GNSS satellite navigation and positioning devices. The relationship of thin-thick clients is discussed and presented. 

From the user perspective, how a Web GIS service is designed and presented has a lot to do with whether or not it gets used and if people will enjoy and like it. Better design equates to greater use, but it also entails some thought be given to how people would wish to engage the service. The authors attempt to explain this connection and discuss web portals, server products, client products and the like. 

It is pointed out that a need for easier standards is required. To meet that challenge the book includes topics related to KML, GEORSS and GML. While some readers might find this level of information technical, it is presented in just enough depth so readers can undertsand how all the ‘dots connect’ without falling into a deep technical discussion. I found it helpful to understand how all the technical pieces inter-connect in a web service – since it ultimately provides more clarity on the resources and ways to develop a business model. 

Mashups are discussed from the server side and from the browser side and readers will find that ArcGIS Web APIs are described in an easy-to-understand manner. So – if all of this has seemed mysterious to you until now, this book is a great help toward understanding how Web GIS services can be developed for company’s from the smallest to the largest. It is important to realize that these services are not only for large companies, but for anyone interested to place spatial information and data upon the web or to more fully develop their business through the use of geographic / location components. 

An entire section of this book covers topics related to mobile GIS. Readers will find that it describes the main mobile devices in use and the role they play in delivering GIS data to the field. Global, national and local geoportals are discussed and the development of a water related application named GEMET OWL is outlined. 

This book attempts to describe how Web GIS services can converge toward the development of spatial data infrastructures. I think the authors have attempted to explain how regions might go about building web services that connect local governments and agencies together with business into streamlined, fully functional e-government possibilities.

In summary I find this to be an important book to have on the personal library shelf. It is full of Web GIS basic information. It provides an excellent summary of the current state of GIS over the World Wide Web and is not written solely for ESRI products alone – this book applies to any product attempting to deliver geographic data as a web service. 

Authors Fu and Sun have provided a well-rounded summary that goes beyond simply describing the technology alone. They open the door toward nourishing more discussion about how these technologies might drive new business models, opportunities for e-government and how GIS can be applied by anyone using web services. In the long run they point in the direction where these tools and applications can lead toward new GeoDesigns for society. 

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