ESRI User Conference at 25: Not Your Grandfather’s GIS Conference

By Adena Schutzberg and Joe Francica

Opening Session: Not the Same Old Same Old
Things were different as we walked into the convention center's huge hall for the opening session.First off, the chairs were laid out "horizontally" with three huge screens.It was a wide room and not a long one with extra screens "in the back" as was presented in past years.No one complained about not being able to see (we were in the front) so it must have worked.Several people commented that it was more intimate than usual and that the traffic flow was much better than in past years.

Second, the material, (after some key things that "must be done" like Dangermond's welcome and introducing yourself to one new person), was different.Gone were the parade of blue ESRI slides with clouds, arrows and boxes.Instead, Dangermond jumped into user submitted maps. Next was a brief user demonstration from Murray, Utah.The demo showed ArcGIS 9.1 finding safe walking routes to school, locating new fire stations, and developing proposals for a new stadium location. Dangermond then gave out the President's award (to an electric utility in Denmark), and then introduced the theme ("GIS helping manage our world").It was a rapid fire romp through the first session, something that kept the audience attentive and focused on the right topics. Refreshingly, there was more about the software and the users than about, for example, how ESRI works.

Whetting the 9.2 Appetite
The rest of the morning focused on ArcGIS 9.2, expected in the first half of 2006.John Calkins followed up on last year's list of 10 favorite tools in 9.0 with these seven usability enhancements planned for ArcGIS 9.2.

7.Map Navigation Short Cuts - Transparent zoom (that is, in the middle of a command) available via mouse wheel, hitting the "z" key in many commands will override and allow for zooming.

6.Custom Map Extent - It's possible to set your own map extents to be used in the "zoom extents" button.Also, it's possible to add your own custom scales to the scale pulldown.

5.Layer Order in TOC - Layers in the table of contents can be right clicked to call metadata directly.Layers in other tools are ordered using the same groups/subgroups as in the TOC.(That is, they are not listed alphabetically.)

4.Better CAD Support - CAD files come in "looking more like CAD files." Also, the georeferencing tools will georeference CAD files.

3.Find by XY - This tool supports not just decimal degrees, but Degrees:Minutes:Seconds.

2.Area Measures - An interactive tool helps get at the area you really want to measure.And, the data are captured in a dialog box for easy copying to other apps.(That got cheers!) And, you can calculate on geometry from the table, that is, use the area/perimeter, x or y for calculations.

1.Excel Support - It's possible to add an Excel table into ArcGIS, without ODBC, just like any other type of table.There was much cheering for that one, too.

Technology Demos
ESRI took a different tact with demos this year
- there were none.Instead, there were workflow demos focused on industries/areas including cartography, spatial analysis and modeling, land records, utilities, business and situational awareness.We had some trouble keeping track of which product was in use, something that speaks to a solution based approach, rather than a product-based one.Here are some high points.
  • In 9.2, it's possible to have the cartographic representation be locationally different than the underlying geometry. In short, you can make a map pretty, but not affect the underlying topology.So, while the trail may run along the lake, you don't want it to look like it's in the lake on the tourist map.
  • It's possible to run a model on a remote server and have the result shown in a browser, or alternatively, delivered (it's a service after all) back to ArcMap.
  • Charts are animated and connected to geography. An animation of the water levels during the recent tsunami followed both on the map and on the chart was very scary!
  • ArcIMS (and its new QuickStart tools) make for a simple and quick way to publish a map-enhanced website.ArcExplorer Web as client streams vectors so there are tooltips (text appears when the mouse passes over) and there's live panning (very similar to Google Maps).
  • GeoChat enables a "messenger" based discussion but also shares geography between two (or more) desktop GIS users.
  • The Touch Table from last year has grown to become a collaboration tool.People at one table can share data with those at another.Even a smart client can take control of the table or add data from, for example, the field.
  • The terrain table, a rubberized top with pistons below, allows for real time, "touchable" 3D visualization.Seeing the mountains literally "rise up" from the table evoked a gasp in the audience.
Dangermond summed up the demos this way: "More access, more interaction."

Goodall Appeals to GIS Professionals to Support Conservation Efforts
Dr.Jane Goodall, famed primatologist, presented the closing session of the day by appealing to the crowd of GIS professionals to support conservation efforts through their knowledge of mapping and remote sensing technology.Goodall spoke for about 30 minutes, holding the audience in rapt attention, as she took them through her career from the Gombe National Park on the shores of Lake Tanganyika where she started her study of chimpanzees to her work with children in her "Roots and Shoots" program.

Much of her presentation focused on deforestation in the areas surrounding Gombe and the declining chimp habitat.The Jane Goodall Institute is currently using GIS technology to demonstrate this problem, and is helping to get the local community involved to determine how to mitigate this situation.
But most poignant in her presentation was an appeal for hope (see "Lessons for Hope") in a world that seems bent on destroying its natural resources.Her reasons:
  • The 'amazing brain' of people to work on complex problems
  • The resilience of the environment
  • Children with the power to learn
  • The indomitable human spirit
Goodall thanked Dangermond for his support of the research efforts and appealed to the audience to find ways to support conservation research.

Published Thursday, July 28th, 2005

Written by Adena Schutzberg and Joe Francica

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