Friday, November 27, 2015

Overview of MapDeck support for common map layer services

MapDeck mission is to personalise location intelligence services. That is, to deliver tailored solutions to meet specific requirements of a wide range of users - from private individuals and small business operators, to professionals and persons in corporate roles.

Flexibility in selection and ease of mixing map layers is a basic requirement for personalising map creation process. It is especially important for those users who are just starting to master the power of maps for decision making and who are not yet technically savvy to use advanced features of spatial software.

Unfortunately, the reality is that even a simple task, such as displaying several map layers from different web services, can turn into quite a challenge because of incompatibilities of variants of public web map services available on the Internet.

MapDeck’s Map Layers Manager handles that complexity of options, which makes it easy for anybody to work with almost any map layer, regardless of web service origin.

"[It] handles information published in Open Street Map (OSM), Tile Map Service (TMS), Web Map Tile Service (WMTS), Web Map Service (WMS) as well as ESRI image, map and tile service formats..."

Map Layers Manager tool handles information published in Open Street Map (OSM) tile format, but also those in Tile Map Service (TMS), Web Map Tile Service (WMTS), Web Map Service (WMS) as well as ESRI image, map and tile service formats. Also those variants requiring access key and/or published with custom parameters. That should cover 99% of map service formats available on the Internet.

MapDeck users have an option to subscribe to Map Layers Manager app which will give them the ability to create their own map layers from almost any web map service publicly available on the Internet. These custom map layers can then be used to create personalised maps and/or can be shared with other MapDeck users.

But perhaps of the most interest to all is that, thanks to Map Layers Manager, many public, as well as commercial, web services will be catalogued and pre-configured for immediate use with MapDeck apps, making it very easy to discover and mash map layers, and ultimately to customise map content to individual requirements. public page

The first batch of 32 public map layers has already been published on MapDeck beta test version. Additional 220+ map layer services have already been preconfigured and they will be progressively released to MapDeck users.

Friday, November 20, 2015

Sales Area Management Tool 2015 upgrade

As MapDeck is getting readied for the official, albeit soft launch in December 2015 we would like to start introducing individual apps that will provide initial functionality of the platform.

Sales Area Management Tools (SAMT) is the first app we would like to bring to your attention. Initially developed as a stand-alone proof of concept, SAMT is now fully integrated with MapDeck platform. It means, output can now be saved in the cloud and can be shared with nominated individuals. And SAMT is now accessible on any screen size (i.e. desktop, tablets and on mobile phones).

Sales Area Management Tool: mobile screen view

SAMT functionality was significantly expanded. For example, users can now select any polygon structures to build their territories with, including postal areas/ zip codes, suburbs and other administrative boundaries available in MapDeck catalogue.

These boundaries can be joined with attribute information, like counts of persons or estimates of market value, so when polygons are joined into territories overall totals for individual territories are calculated automatically. It will help in creating balanced territories and with rebalancing territories as local market conditions change over time.

Sales Area Management Tool: territories with attributes (desktop view)

Map window now extends to a full screen and users have much more control over styling of individual territories. There is an option to change base map background to any map layer available in MapDeck catalogue. As well, users have the ability to display only one territory at a time (e.g. for printing purposes).

For ease of use, polygon names appear on-mouse-over and location search is now a standard functionality of SAMT. Sorting by name or id, and searching within long lists of territories, is also supported.

Sales Area Management Tool: filter by territory name and mouse-over functions (desktop view)

Users have the ability to create several versions of territories and saving them all in the same data table.

However, the most significant innovation added to SAMT is the ability to include a trace-over layer on the map. This functionality can be very handy for displaying older versions of territories in the background when creating an updated or alternative version. Or in case where territories have to be reconstructed from a different geography.

For example, territories created from postal areas could be easily recreated with suburbs when the former is used for reference as a trace-over layer.

Sales Area Management Tool: recreating postcode based territory (orange) with suburbs (purple)

The latest version of Sales Area Management Tool can be accessed right now by current users of version 1 of the app. Please contact MapDeck’s Australian affiliate via email on to arrange for login details.

Update on the status of All-Things-Spatial

It has been a quiet year on All-Things-Spatial. We have only managed to publish 6 posts so far. The main reason for the lack of updates is a very busy schedule on the development front, with all hands on deck (pun intended!) to bring MapDeck concept to fruition. And to the point that it can be successfully launched on the market!

The project turned out to be much bigger than anyone anticipated but now the platform is very close to the official release. Thanks for all the financial support and great feedback we received during testing of various concepts! MapDeck users will be the ultimate winners – with easy access to tons of free and cheap data and tools.

We believe MapDeck is something very, very special – but you have to experience it in person to fully appreciate the potential. MapDeck may not be the prettiest website on the Internet, and may not have all the bells and whistles (yet!) of more mature (and better funded!) cloud based mapping software available on the market but it is the only one that offers fully personalised experience.

MapDeck will be launched with only a basic set of tools and information but product range will expand over time to meet a growing list of user requirements. More on what is available in a separate post. For now, we would just like to bring you up to date on the administrative arrangements for moving forward with this project.

In particular, MapDeck is a global service provider and operates as an independent business.

At the same time, brand will continue to participate on the project as a lead partner in Australia, providing local content for the platform as well as servicing local clients.

All-Things-Spatial blog will remain under control. It will be a vehicle for promoting MapDeck capabilities and for educating current and prospective users of the platform about advantage of using spatial technologies for decision making purposes.  

We hope you can join us here regularly for insights and good ideas how to make the most of MapDeck functionality. Stay tuned!

Friday, July 24, 2015

Mapdeck beta testing invitation

We are very close to finalising functionality for the beta release and are looking for testers!

GIS background not required since Mapdeck service is aimed at people with no or limited experience with spatial software. Please send your expression of interest to participate via email to or via contact form on web site. All testers will have priority when applying for affiliates/reseller status (i.e. revenue sharing program). platform turned out to be quite a complex beast, with many independent modules which require integration within the main platform to enable full interoperability. Although the core functionality in the initial release is limited, it will enable individuals to:

  • sign up (i.e. create free account)
  • upload own files (spatial and non-spatial)
  • subscribe to a selection of spatial data and apps (free-of-charge and time limited paid subscriptions)
  • create and manage user content (with compulsory metadata for ease of managing information resources)
  • upgrade subscriptions to enable sharing – user content as well as Mapdeck apps and data 
  • create teams and share selected content; and
  • request assistance via User Support 

There are several functional components of Mapdeck that we would like to test in particular:

  • Mapdeck Vault: free app for managing and sharing user content
  • Mapdeck Finder: new spatial resources catalogue app with data, apps and user content search functionality 
  • Subscriptions and purchase workflow: for adding data and applications to user account
  • Free system apps: Data Viewer, Data Editor, File Manager and Deck Creator
  • First lot of specialised apps: Sales Area Management Tool v2 and Thematic Mapper v2 (when ready)

As you can see, there are many moving parts in Mapdeck and we would like to ensure everything is working as expected before we throw the gates open to the public. Your assistance will be greatly appreciated!

Related Posts:

Friday, June 5, 2015

Mapdeck in alpha release

We have a small announcement to make today – platform is now officially in alpha release. No time for confetti and big celebration yet as we are busily testing core functionality with a selected few to iron out any bugs and workflow issues.

The task is not easy when you consider we are building our own mini versions of Dropbox and Google Docs, and at the same time, reinvent basics of GIS concepts and technology while defining new spatial cataloguing standard…   Not a small challenge for a team of just a few.

We took the opportunity to tidy up front page and present you today with new site design and logo:

Front page now has links to a few demo maps created with Thematic Mapper app – this is still only an older prototype version but is powerful enough to be deployed in full production capacity and many of our clients are already taking advantage of its capabilities.

More exciting news coming soon!

Tuesday, May 5, 2015

Improving property selection with Census data

First published on

Buying a property is a complex process with many decision points along the way, regardless of whether you are buying to live in or to rent out. A very important part of that decision process is deciding where to buy, and what type of property in particular.

There will be those rare occasions when the buyer just sees a property for the first time, either in real life or just on a picture, and immediately knows “this is it!”.

However, more often than not, the selection of a property for purchase is an elimination process whereby you firstly exclude what you don’t want, and then evaluate and rank what is left to arrive at the final decision.

In either case, the more time one spends learning about various property options and getting to know the peculiarities of the local market, the better the chance of spotting that ‘perfect opportunity’ - or at least making the selection process a more logical exercise, and hence less stressful.

There is a large variety of property market information available to individuals. Some information is accessible for free online as part of marketing activities of various real estate related web sites, while other requires payment of hefty fees to access.

Although Australian Census data may not be at the top of the list of the most popular information sources to consult when buying a property, it is a great resource that should be seriously considered as a starting point in the purchasing process.

The key advantage of using Census data in property market research is that it allows you to quickly narrow the choice of locations to concentrate your further, more-detailed research on. Hence, it allows prospective buyers to make their research more focused, and subsequently, a much cheaper and much faster exercise.

After all, as any real estate agent will tell you, buying a property is about ‘location, location, location’. So, defining ‘where’ to start looking should always be a priority.

Sales reports for suburbs or postcodes that list recent transactions provide prospective buyers with good insights into the price distribution in a given location and at a given time but can be quite expensive to obtain. These are great for the final stage of your research when you are comparing between specific offerings on the market and assessing whether what you are interested in is good value in relation to other recent sales in that location.

However, considering there are a few hundred suburbs or postcodes per capital city, accessing all that information would be prohibitively expensive. Not to mention impractical if it is delivered in a pdf report format.

Therefore, tools that allow analysing and mapping data across whole regions offer much more utility in the early stages of the research.

Let’s review a few examples of simple maps with data from the latest 2011 Census of Population and Housing to illustrate the value of such information for deciding on where and what to buy. We will focus on Sydney and will use postal areas as a geographic reference.

Census data was current as at 6 August 2011 so it may appear a bit dated in 2015. However, in this analysis we are primarily interested in the relative differences between areas rather than absolute values, therefore the age of data is not so important, as long as it is reasonably recent.

The obvious choice in starting the analysis would be to look at median mortgage payments per postcode – this acts as a quick reference to the distribution of prices across the city. The map below gives a good indication where the expensive and not so expensive parts of Sydney are.

Distribution of median monthly mortgage repayments across Sydney - postal areas, deciles (Census 2011)

However, using this dataset alone will not allow you to distinguish between areas with lots of new mortgages (hence high mortgage payments) and those with expensive but mostly paid-off properties (that is, with smaller remaining mortgages).

Therefore, median rent data provides a much more useful picture since rental costs and the cost of buying a property are closely related (see “Australian property prices explained” for the explanation of this concept).

Median weekly rents in Sydney - postal areas, deciles (Census 2011)

Using the map like the one above, you can determine areas around the city with similar property prices. For example, if you have identified one area with properties in your price range, by locating polygons shaded in the same colour you can easily identify neighbourhoods that have similarly affordable properties.

Price affordability is one factor affecting the choice of location but how desirable is the neighbourhood is another important consideration in the purchase decision. You could try to assess the attractiveness of the neighbourhood based on the rate of unemployment or family incomes but the best summary measure is The Index of Relative Socio-economic Advantage and Disadvantage which summarises information about the economic and social conditions of people and households within an area.

For example, a low score indicates relatively greater disadvantage and a lack of advantage in general. That is, these are locations with many households with low incomes, or many people in unskilled occupations and few households with high incomes, or few people in skilled occupations.

Socio-Economic Index of Advantage and Disadvantage for Sydney postal areas, deciles (Census 2011)

It is all well and good to follow advice to “buy in the West” because it is cheaper and prices have the potential to rise more than in the East over the next few years (this pattern of price growth was explained in an earlier article “Inner ring the best bet in Sydney and here's why”) but the decision has to be balanced with the risk that it will be much harder to sell or rent out in those locations when the going gets tougher.

Furthermore, as an investor, you may be interested primarily in locations with high concentration of rental properties which indicate high demand for rental accommodation. Whereas, owner-occupiers may prefer to avoid areas with excessive stock of rental accommodation.

Rented properties as proportion of total dwellings - Sydney, postal areas, deciles (Census 2011)

Landlords cannot and should not discriminate against families with young children but those who would like to reduce the risk of excessive wear and tear of their rental properties could use Census data to pick locations where probability of this type of tenant is reduced.

Persons aged 0-4 years old as proportions of total persons - Sydney, postal areas, deciles (Census 2011)

And how crucial is a parking space if you are buying an apartment to rent out? Sure, it is great if there is one included in the purchase price but for many locations along major train lines and arterial roads where 30% or even 50% of households do not have a car, lack of parking space should not be a deal breaker.

Dwellings with no motor vehicle as proportion of all dwellings - Sydney, postal areas, deciles (Census 2011)

Finally, consulting Census data can also help prospective buyers as well as existing landlords to assess the potential of specific locations for group rentals which can significantly boost rental yields by maximising income from the asset.

Persons in group households as proportion of total persons - Sydney, postal areas, deciles (Census 2011)

Census data cannot provide all the answers but it is of great help in the property selection process as it offers a fast way to narrow your search options to a handful of locations to then focus your more detailed research on. Using Census statistics will save you money and valuable time in arriving at the optimal selection for purchase.

Related Resources:
Property Market Analysis with Thematic Mapper
State postcode maps 
Postcode Finder map

Friday, May 1, 2015

Census 2010 data for California ZIP codes

We are busily collecting spatial data for our soon to be launched platform. Below is a sample of the US 2010 Census data for California ZIP Codes (5-Digit ZIP Code Tabulation Area or ZCTA5 to be precise) presented as a series of choropleth maps using a prototype version of our Thematic Mapper app.

To explore the data follow this link: California Population Statistics by ZIP Code (2010)