Easy-Button Method to Create a Web Map

While I work at the motherland of GIS services and web maps, I don’t have ArcGIS for Server or even a web server installed on my local machine. Odds are, many of you don’t either. For me, getting set up with a virtual machine configured with all the right software is completely doable…but not done. Things came to a head recently when I wanted to visualize some Excel data on a web map.

Of course, I could bring the Excel data into ArcMap and visualize it there, but I wanted to make a web map so I could easily share it with coworkers who don’t use ArcGIS in their day to day.

Lacking the ability to publish a map service myself, I opted to go the minimalist route—that is, use the free ArcGIS.com map viewer and ArcGIS Online resources. If your organization has an ArcGIS Online subscription, you can map your data right inside Excel since Esri Maps for Office is included with the subscription.

A viable alternative for those without a subscription is to add a .csv file (text file of comma-separated values) to the ArcGIS.com map viewer and save the map to their ArcGIS Online public account. An Excel spreadsheet is easily saved as a .csv file. To be mapped, the spreadsheet must have fields that store location data—latitude and longitude values, GPX coordinates, or addresses.

I wanted to visualize the locations of individuals in the U.S. who attended the Creating Hosted Map Services with ArcGIS Online live training seminar back in October. Understanding the geographic distribution of our viewers is useful to evaluate seminar broadcast times. All I had to do to create a web map was follow these easy steps.

  1. Open the Excel spreadsheet and save it as a .csv file.
  2. Go to www.arcgis.com and click the Map link at the bottom of the page.
  3. In the map viewer, zoom to the data’s extent.
  4. Keep the default World Topographic basemap or click the Basemap Gallery button and choose a different basemap.
  5. To the left of the Basemap Gallery button, click Add > Add Layer from File, browse to the .csv file, then click Import Layer. (If you’re using Firefox or Chrome, you can just drag and drop a .csv file into the map viewer.)Default map of LTS attendees

In less than two minutes, I’m visualizing my data as points on a pretty map. I can click each point and see the associated data from the Excel spreadsheet in a pop-up. Easy. Except…

I only want to show certain columns, and I don’t like the names of those columns. I’d also like to symbolize the points by self-reported industry.

I can address all of these issues right in the viewer.

  1. In the Contents pane to the left of the map, click the arrow next to the layer name and click Change Symbols.
  2. Choose Unique Symbols in the drop-down list and specify the field that stores the values you want to symbolize.
  3. Choose a color ramp, then click Apply.

In the symbol preview, I notice an industry category named Other. For my purposes, Other is the same as no data. It’s easy to change the Other symbol label.

  1. In the Change Symbols panel, click the label next to the Other symbol, then type a new label (No Information is more understandable for this map). If I wanted, I could click Change Symbol and assign a different symbol to distinguish this category.
  2. Click OK, then Apply. Finally, click Done Changing Symbols.
  • ArcGIS.com map of Esri live training seminar viewersTakeaway #1: Explore your data and decide how you want to present it before putting it on a map. In the map viewer, it’s easy to change the display properties, but you can’t modify the data itself.

So, in just a few more minutes, I’ve mapped viewer distribution and self-reported industry. Next, I’ll configure the pop-ups.

  1. In the Contents pane, click the arrow next to the layer name again and choose Configure Pop-up.
  2. Enter a descriptive pop-up title.
  3. Click Configure Attributes and uncheck fields you don’t want to display, then make sure the fields you do want to display are checked. You can also use the arrow buttons to reorder the fields. Be sure to type a friendly alias for each field that will display, then click OK.
  4. At the bottom of the Pop-up Properties panel, click Save Pop-up. Configured pop-up window on web map

Now when I click points on the map, I see only the information of interest. I also notice something.

When I zoom in to a large scale, the Topographic basemap gets very detailed. Building footprints and local streets display. Some of my symbol colors blend into the basemap features.

Switching to the Light Gray Canvas basemap is a quick solution. This basemap, with its subdued colors and less detail at large scales, is a better backdrop for my data. Web map with Esri light gray canvas basemap

  • Takeaway #2: Before deciding on a basemap, explore it at large (and small) scales to understand the level of detail and assess its appropriateness for your mapping purpose. It’s important to choose symbol colors that will stand out against the basemap at various scales.

Finally, I want to show time zones on the map. I don’t have a layer of time zones but I’ll search ArcGIS Online content to see if anyone has shared this data.

  1. Click Add > Search for Layers.
  2. In the Find text box, type time zones, choose to search in ArcGIS Online, then click Go.
  3. The search results include several time zone feature services. After adding one of them to the map, I change its symbology to unique values so each zone will have a different color and increase the layer transparency value so the time zone features don’t obscure the other data. World time zones added to web map

In less than 20 minutes, I’ve “mappified” my Excel data and added context to it. All that’s left is to save the map to my ArcGIS Online account. To generate a link to the map that I can embed in a web page, e-mail, or social media post, I just need to share the map.

  • Takeaway #3: There are lots of ways to create, save, and share a web map these days. If you don’t have access to software for creating GIS services, you’re not out of luck. Creating a high-performing web map with the ArcGIS.com map viewer really is an easy—and useful—method.
SuzanneB

About SuzanneB

Suzanne is a Maryland native with a degree in English Literature who enjoys writing about Esri technology and other topics. She works with Esri Training Services in Redlands, California.
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