Over the weekend ESRI pushed out a public release of the ArcGIS.com website (still in beta). They’ve brought along the data from ArcGIS Online (what there was) and have wrapped it around an absolutely beautiful website. It is a little light on content, but I’m sure at ArcGIS 10, ESRI expects all of us to start sharing our data as Layer Packages on ArcGIS.com.

ArcGIS.com is now live

The Gallery page is fairly well laid out, but I’m not sure if it will scale when the billions of ESRI users start integrating this into their workflows.

The Gallery page of ArcGIS.com

You’ve got 3 basic sections of the Gallery; Maps, Web Apps and Mobile Apps. When you mouse over a map in the Maps section, you get an overview of the map and some very basic metadata on it. Pages appear at the bottom and while this works very well for the 2 pages that exist now, I’m sure it will get messy very quickly. But don’t worry, ESRI has a search!

Searching ArcGIS.com

“Gulf Oil” results in a ton of results across the whole ArcGIS.com. The search works well as long as there is never an oil spill in another gulf. There is no way I can see to say I only want results in the Gulf of Mexico and not the Persian Gulf. It’s the typical Google (though with pretty screenshots) search method that I’m just not sure works very well with spatial data. All these maps on ESRI’s ArcGIS.com have extents, why not use that for a search?

The next section of Gallery is Web Apps where users can register their own ArcGIS Server APIs websites. Before we get there there is a huge problem with the navigation of ArcGIS.com. You can’t generate URLs for many of the sections. Thus if you want to see the Web Apps section of ArcGIS.com, you’ll need to go to ArcGIS.com and navigate yourself. Enjoy…

Web Apps section of ArcGIS.com

Some of these you’ve seen for years, others are now. You can either roll your own on your own servers, or create a map on ArcGIS.com (which I’ll get into soon). Again, its got the same issues as the Maps section. Will it scale when the method of discovery doesn’t lend itself to maps? We’ll see.

Lastly is the Mobile Apps section which is essentially the same as the Web Apps, but with only Mobile Apps. It will be interesting to see if ESRI will allow Web and Mobile Apps that use ESRI Web Services or ArcGIS Server, but not their visualization APIs (for example using OpenLayers) into ArcGIS.com.

Map

Map allows you to visualize content in ArcGIS.com or on your own map web services. It isn’t ArcGIS Explorer Web, but appears to be a JavaScript subset of it.

ArcGIS.com Maps using OpenStreetMap basemap

Now I do like ArcGIS.com Maps very much. I think the folks at ESRI did a very good job with it and it is generally very intuitive. There is a huge problem with though though, zero support for open standards. Want to add an OGC web services (even one running on ArcGIS Server)? Can’t do it. I have to assume they’ll add this in soon, but until it happens ArcGIS.com Maps is just half baked. (this is also a problem with ArcGIS Explorer Web)

Open Standards? Not around here…

So anyway, assuming you live in a total ESRI world (I guess we do don’t we?) author you map in ArcGIS.com Map and save it. Then you can choose do you want to share with the world (using that Gallery stuff above) or with a small group (or keep it private). This brings us to the last section of ArcGIS.com

Groups

The groups section is where groups (get it?) can collaborate on their maps together. I’ve not set up a group yet, but browsing through the public ones I can see lots of them called “test”. As I’ve stated before above, you can see how the navigation becomes unusable after a couple pages have been added. No one in their right mind will browse these maps via this interface making discovery very difficult. Long tail need not apply at ArcGIS.com.

Yikes, 90 pages. Time to futz with the search engine.

Conclusions

So what do I think? ArcGIS.com is a very good start. It really looks and feels modern. Runs snappy and is quite intuitive. My problems with it are few, but to me their are just killers. No support for any open standards. As long as you use ArcGIS Server Services and Layer Packages, you can share. If you don’t have ArcGIS then this just isn’t going to be the place for you. Even if you use ArcGIS Server and only share WMS services, you can’t partake in ESRI’s ArcGIS.com.

The other issue I have with it is that I don’t think the interface scales well. If we are all going to be resorting to using search to find anything, it makes it very difficult to just discover things. A perfect example is how I see people using Google Earth with the Wikipedia layer on. They just navigate the globe discovering content on a map.

Lastly I have one huge plea to ESRI. **PLEASE ADD AN UPTIME INDICATOR TO WEB AND MOBILE APPS! **We can’t use any of these services if we don’t know how often they are down. Star ratings are useless so feel free to drop that right now and do something like FGDC does. Reliability lends credibility and I can’t imagine ESRI spending all this money on ArcGIS.com only to see it fail like GeographyNetwork.

That said, ArcGIS.com is a good start and could become the premier method of visualizing geo-content on the web. I’m not sure the sharing aspect will gain much traction since it doesn’t support open standards, but ArcGIS.com Maps will be well used by just about everyone.