Spring 2015

Three Tips for GIS Content Sharing

This article as a PDF.


More organizational leaders have grasped the business value of getting geospatial content out of department silos and into the hands of knowledge workers using ArcGIS Online and a variety of enterprise applications.

As a result, many GIS professionals are being asked to share. GIS professionals have always been a generous lot, so sharing is nothing new. What's new is the ease with which things can be shared.

ArcGIS Online has become an integrated content platform that supports enterprise GIS workflows and the information needs of both GIS and non-GIS professionals, collaborative working groups, and the public.

With many potential content consumers, the question of what to share should be carefully considered. If you're in the process of crafting a sharing strategy for your ArcGIS Online organization (or on-premises portal), here are three tips to help the process along.

1 Prioritize Consumer Relevance

Although you could share all types of geospatial content, that might not be feasible or desirable. When faced with an overwhelming number of choices, site users may opt out. Feature the content that your organization's users are most likely to be interested in.

Site users will be most interested in content that helps them do their work faster, easier, and better. Think about your organization's structure (or its constituents) and imagine you're a content consumer. Why have you come to this site? What are you hoping to do with the content you find?

For example, an analyst with a market research group might want maps showing customer and physical business locations, demographic data, and drive times. Templates for branded web apps could also be useful.

Make a list of frequently requested items. How many times does your team create the same or very similar information products for different groups? Share that content.

Have you ever thought to yourself if only the folks in other departments knew how our data could help them? Well, now's your chance to showcase your data to school the non-GIS teams on the value that geographic insight brings to their projects.

Once you've settled on what to share, decide how to share it. It may make sense to create hosted feature layers for data that will be especially popular.

2 Provide Guideposts

Never underestimate the power of clear directions. Think about your favorite e-commerce sites. How do they direct you to products? Their home pages likely have prominent links to

  • The latest products.
  • The five or ten most popular products.
  • Recommended items for specific use cases ("Dorm essentials for your new college student!").

Adopt these familiar techniques for enhancing your organization's ArcGIS Online home page. It is the "front door" of your site. A front door should be welcoming but quickly passed through. You want visitors to get inside and join the party.

The home page description section is a great and prominent place to add links that will guide users to the relevant content you've shared.

3 Teach Them to Fish

Who better to help the masses create accurate, impactful maps and apps than a GIS professional? Your ArcGIS Online organization is a rich source of authoritative content. However, a lot of people may not know exactly how to use it at first.

You can help content consumers get up to speed by adding frequently asked questions and tips from the GIS team on your organizational site. Of course, you should always document essential information in item properties, including

  • Who created the data and when
  • The accuracy of the data
  • An explanation of numeric attributes shown in a map legend or table (unless the data is clearly unambiguous).
  • Access and use constraints.

To make sure consumers see this information, you can get creative. As you're documenting your content, support searching. That is how people find things these days. Create a set of standard tags—both geographical and topical—and consistently apply them.

By sharing relevant content and helping consumers understand how the content can be used to shed new light on their work, you extend the benefits of GIS well beyond its current boundaries.

About the Author

Suzanne Boden works with Esri Training Services in Redlands, California, and enjoys writing about Esri technology and other topics.

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