Another Tool in the Box: National Geographic’s MapMaker Interactive

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I finally got around to playing with National Geographic’s MapMaker Interactive application on the organization’s education site. As a GIS analyst with two young boys I am always interested in tools that can help teach them about geography or GIS. The MapMaker tool helps teach both of these.

The interface is built on the ArcGIS framework using the ArcGIS API for flex. It features eight base maps to choose from including National Geographic view, satellite view, streets view and oceans view. There are also six themes (with related sub-themes) such as water, land, climate and population, that help users turn out handsome looking maps quickly.

National Geographic MapMaker Interactive

The drawing tools are very user-friendly and include only six basic tools. In addition to these, there is a “markers” tab that provides 30 different symbols representing vegetation, structures and events. You choose between three different marker sizes then drag and drop the marker where you want the point to be located.

Other than looking at the prefabricated themes or measuring distances between locations there is really no analysis that can be done with this map. However, the tool is called MapMaker, not MapAnalyzer, and is geared toward kids so one really cannot complain.

While kids might be the target audience of the MapMaker, its simplicity lends itself to be used by adults who are not GIS savvy but might want to make a quick and authoritative looking map for a manager or client.

The National Geographic education site is still in Beta at the time of this post so there are still a few issues with the tools acting buggy. It would also be great to see a PDF export option and a way to retain measurement annotation as a permanent part fo the map. Those are just minor complaints though and the functionality may well change as the web site goes through and comes out of Beta.

Overall this is a great tool to use for basic mapping or teaching about geography and geographic information systems. Head over to the site and give it a try. You might find that you have another free tool that you can use to make a quick one-off presentation map or you can recommend it to a non-GIS user who wants to play cartographer.