Tuesday, July 26, 2016

In Focus: 2016 Australian Statistical Boundaries

The Australian Statistical Geography Standard (ASGS) defines the boundaries, and respective relationships, of regions in Australia which the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) and many other organisations use to collect, analyse and publish geographically classified statistics. 

To name a few examples, such statistics include Census-derived demographic and dwelling data, future population projections, labour force data and building approval rates.  

ASGS Volume 1 - Main Structure and Greater Capital City Statistical Areas, July 2016 has just been released by the ABS. It deals with the ASGS core structures, such as Mesh Blocks and Statistical Area Levels 1 to 4, and the Greater Capital City Statistical Areas (GCCSA).

The 2016 ASGS boundaries will be used for the publication of the 2016 Census of Population and Housing data and progressively introduced into other ABS data collections.

This is the second edition of the ASGS and it updates the 2011 edition for growth and change in Australia's population, economy and infrastructure. It also incorporates the Territory of Norfolk Island for the first time. Volumes 2 to 5 of statistical geography will be released progressively over 2016 through to 2018.

All boundaries from Volume 1 of 2016 ASGS have been published on MapDeck and complement the previously released 2011 data.

2016 Mesh Blocks on Statistical Area Level 2 boundaries

Correspondence files, describing the relationship between the 2011 and 2016 versions of the boundary data, will be added shortly to coincide with the upcoming upgrade of the Thematic Mapper app. These reference files can be used to recalculate 2011 Census statistics to present them on 2016 version of boundaries. Stay tuned for the updates.

Monday, July 18, 2016

In Focus: DigitalGlobe Recent Imagery Basemap

Curated, high-resolution images for nearly anywhere on Earth, captured by DigitalGlobe's constellation of satellites and published as a single map layer.

DigitalGlobe Recent Imagery Basemap is a compilation of the best satellite images from the DigitalGlobe Image Library. Individual scenes are colour-balanced so the mosaic gives the impression of a single, continuous depiction of the Earth's surface.

Mosaic of DigitalGlobe satellite images

The resolution of the images in this collection is between 30 cm to 60 cm per pixel. That is, the images capture significant surface area details.

The acquisition dates of the individual pictures vary throughout the world. For example, there are wide parcels of landmass captured in 2015 - mainly in the US and Europe, but the majority of the images date back to 2012-2014 or earlier (see DigitalGlobe’s web site for detailed information on vintage and resolution).

MapDeck users have instant and free access to DigitalGlobe Recent Imagery Basemap, as well as the Hybrid Layer, Street Overlays, Terrain map and Streets map.

Please note that personal versions of Digital Globe’s web services can also be set up on MapDeck using the Map Layers Manager app . Therefore, MapDeck users are not restricted to only publicly available satellite images but can utilise other image layers bought directly from Digital Globe.

DigitalGlobe Recent Imagery Basemap at close zoom

DigitalGlobe Recent Imagery is best for:
  • as an all-purpose image overlay;
  • as an image backdrop for transparent point-and-line layers, like streets or topographic overlays;
  • for a plethora of on-the-ground situation awareness applications (like, for example, property condition assessment, access or parcel boundaries inspections, determination of existence of structures, pools or solar panels on rooftops, vegetation distribution assessment, etc.) but the date of acquisition of the images in a particular location should be taken into account.

DigitalGlobe Recent Imagery Basemap is a perfect alternative to Google or Bing image and hybrid layers, and it can be personalised with a whole range of free data available on the MapDeck's platform.

Thursday, June 30, 2016

In Focus: OpenStreetMap Standard base map

Content, composition and timeliness of information make OpenStreetMap (OSM) the ultimate benchmark for all the online maps.

There is a whole range of base maps available for import into MapDeck apps. These maps can be used as the backdrop image for presentation of other spatially reference information. Selecting the right base map for this purpose may pose a challenge to the user due to the variety of options available so, in this series of “In Focus” posts, we are introducing the most popular alternatives to make your job easier.

OpenStreetMap Standard map is one of these alternatives. It contains information contributed by members of the public as well as official government data. The level of detail depicted on the map tends to be very high. The map covers the entire world and is continuously updated. 

OpenStreetMap Standard at medium zoom
Although data quality varies worldwide, it is fair to say that OSM surpasses content and timeliness of any other map. The cartographic presentation of the information is also very refined. This feature-rich base map is a default option on MapDeck.

OpenStreetMap Standard at close zoom

OSM Standard map is best for:
  • as a background for point or line data (e.g. routes) but it is generally too busy and too colourful for thematic content (e.g. choropleth maps);
  • showing small area details.

OSM is a precious public resource that underpins the operations of millions of organisations and businesses of all sizes, facilitating billions of dollars in economic activity throughout the world. We are writing about this map only in superlatives but the value of OpenStreetMap deserves to be fully acknowledged.

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.