Product Review: LotInfo Pro 2011

August 8, 2011

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LotInfo LLC
304 Park Avenue South
11th Floor
New York, NY 10010
Tel: (212) 590-2538
Pricing info: Appendix A

User Interface
When you first open LotInfo Pro, the user interface, which is referred to as a workspace, consists of the LotInfo toolbar at the top of the workspace, a map window displaying parcel data in New York City on the right, and windows on the left for Find & Zoom, Data View and Locator Map (Figure 1). The windows can be minimized by pressing the arrow on the windows or they can be hidden by maximizing the size of the map with the blue arrow button. The scalebar is shown on the bottom of the map window along with the current scale below the map window. Users can right-click on a lot point to open a pop-up menu where the user can connect to several websites with information about the selected lot including Google Earth, zoning maps, tax map, Department of Finance, etc.

Figure 1: LotInfo User Interface. (Click for larger view.)

LotInfo Toolbar
The LotInfo toolbar on the top of the workspace is a combination of tools and drop down menus. Several of the buttons on the toolbar act similarly to drop down menus in that as the user clicks the button, a list of additional buttons appears below the button clicked, and the user can make a selection from the buttons that drop down. Examples of the drop down buttons include the Customize, Imp/Exp and Layers buttons. The LotInfo toolbar includes several tools with functions commonly used in GIS software applications such as Zoom, Pan, Identify and Measure. The Legend button displays or hides the legend on the map window and the Block# button displays or hides labels for the block numbers on the map. Figure 2 shows the LotInfo toolbar with the Customized drop down buttons.

Figure 2: Dropdown buttons on the LotInfo toolbar. (Click for larger view.)

The Customize button provides options for a user to specify Settings, Layers, Coloring and Clear. The Settings option opens a dialog box for the user to configure Data Locations and Tool Settings. The Data Locations specifies file paths for several data location options on a user’s computer such as the main data location and the notes data location. The Layers option opens a Customize dialog box where users can choose settings for their favorite layers and the SpotLink layer. The Coloring button provides functions for a user to select a layer and specify an individual coloring scheme for the layer, or a thematic range based on a field in the layer. The coloring schemes available in LotInfo include Individual Value, Ranges and Specific Value. The Clear button clears any selected records on the map window.

The Imp/Export button provides functions for the user to Import, Copy Map, Copy Win and Report. The Import function opens a dialog box to import data from Microsoft Access or Excel files. Files that are imported into LotInfo are required to have a Boro, Address and BBL field to link the imported data to the map features. The imported table can be appended to an existing layer or a new layer can be created. The Copy Map and Copy Win buttons create screenshots that can be copied into other applications similar to the Print Screen function on a standard keyboard. Copy Map only copies the map window from LotInfo, where Copy Win copies the entire LotInfo application workspace. The Report button creates an html file on the local hard drive and opens this file in a browser window with a JPEG image of the map window along with the Data View attributes of the selected property.
The Layers button is used to turn specific layers on and off in the map window. The layers that can be displayed using the Layer button include: House No., Sales, Land Use, Subway lines, Subway stations, SpotLink, Favorites, Permits and Other. The House No. layer displays a label of the house number for the parcels. The Sales layer is a color-coded point layer on the map with the most recent year the property was sold. To view the year of the sale, make sure the Legend is displayed on the map. The sales data are updated quarterly and the layer can be replaced with the most up-to-date version through an ftp download or from a CD. The Land Use layer shades a point layer on the map with standard land use classifications and colors. The Subway layer displays lines showing the location of the various subway rail lines and symbolizes the lines to indicate different subway routes. The Stations layer is a point layer indicating the location of subway stations. The Permits layer symbolizes a point layer on the map with the building permit type. Permit information is downloaded from the NYC Department of Buildings website and the permit data are updated monthly by LotInfo.

The SpotLink layer displays a black point feature to indicate the location of files that users have attached to their maps such as a photographs, drawings, documents and videos. SpotLink files can be added using the SpotLink button on the LotInfo toolbar and the files will be listed in the SpotLink List View. The Favorite button is used to control the display of the Favorite Layer. The Favorite Layer is used to store and manage specific lots that a user selects to save to the Favorites Layer. Users can right-click on a lot to open a pop-up menu that provides the option to add the selected lot to the Favorites Layer. The Other layer opens a dialog box to add an Esri shapefile from the hard drive to the map.

The Notes button on the LotInfo toolbar allows a user to Show Notes, Add Notes, Edit Notes and Delete Notes. Notes are simply text labels that a user inputs at a location on the map; they act similar to layers in that they can be turned on and off with the Show Notes button. Notes can be added, edited and deleted from the Notes layer by selecting the appropriate button.

SpotLink is a tool to view and add photographs, drawings, documents and video files to the map. The SpotLink tool allows the user to click on a property point which opens a dialog box for the user to locate files to attach to the map. The dialog box can be directed to a specific location through the Windows File > Open dialog box or the user can press the Drag and Drop files from the Windows Explorer button to place the files on the map. Users can write a caption to provide descriptive text of the file. Once the files are added to the map, the file will be listed in the SpotLink List Viewer which appears on the lower left of the user interface whenever the SpotLink tool is activated. The SpotLink tool is also used to retrieve the attached files by clicking on the point location with a SpotLink file and double-clicking on the file shown in the SpotLink List Viewer to open the file with the appropriate software program. Figure 3 shows a map window with points showing the location of SpotLink files, the SpotLink List Viewer, and an example of a picture file that was opened using the SpotLink tool.  

Figure 3: SpotLink locations and attached picture. (Click for larger view.)

The QueryLink buttons provides query tools for users to select records. The user can select data based on the tabular data only, draw a radius on the map, draw a rectangle, draw a user-defined polygon and clear the selection. Once an option is selected, the QueryLink – Spatial Query dialog box opens where the user can further refine the query. (See Figure 4)

Figure 4: QueryLink –Spatial Query dialog box. (Click for larger view.)

The QueryLink – Spatial Query dialog box provides an option to create queries based on the property information and conditions the user is interested in. After the query is defined, the query is executed by pressing the Run Query button. The Run Query button can be pressed without a query defined and will list lots that were selected with the QueryLink polygon select tools. Users can save queries for future use and recall them with the Load Query button. The results of the query are displayed in the grid section of the QueryLink dialog box. The Add/Remove Result Field button allows the user to customize the fields that are displayed in the grid. It is useful to have numeric fields displayed for the Calculate Statistics button since it will only perform statistics on fields displayed in the grid. Query results can be exported to a Microsoft Excel file, Text file or an Esri shapefile for further analysis by pressing the Export button. Once the queries are completed, press the Map Selected button or Map All button and close the dialog box to view the query result on the map.

Find & Zoom
The Find & Zoom window allows the user to search the map for an address, intersection, or a block and lot number. There is a combo box that is used to select a borough for the New York City data. Once the location is found, a crosshair symbol is placed on the map to denote the location and the map will be centered at the location. One useful tip is to zoom in on the map to get a better view of the location, as the function uses the current map scale when the location is found. Figure 5 shows an example of the Find & Zoom window along with the geocoded result on the map. The Find & Zoom window has a button to open the Help menu. I thought this was an intriguing location to put the Help button when there is room on the LotInfo toolbar to place a Help button.

Figure 5: Find & Zoom dialog box search. (Click for larger view.)

Data View
The Data View window provides tabs for the user to access attribute data of a selected location. Properties can be selected with the Identify tool which will populate the tabs in the Data View with the attributes of the selected property. The tabs are logically categorized around common data fields for the user to access the property information quickly and easily. There are 12 tabs the user can press through to access the data: Address, Districts, Zoning, List, Building, LPC, Maps, Tax-value, Subway, Sales, Owner and Permits.

Locator Map
The Locator Map window is an overview map of the areas with data for LotInfo and is located on the lower left corner of the workspace. The Locator Map window displays a red rectangle on the map that indicates the location of the map window within the overall coverage area. Users can click anywhere on the Locator map or drag the red rectangle, and the main map will move to the area the user selected.

LotInfo Professional is utilized by property managers, brokerage and management staff, urban planners, and energy, communication and public information workers. LotInfo is distinguished from Internet property information sites in three ways: it is interactive, it is secure and it is easily customized to incorporate client-specific features. Property mapping and building information are increasingly available nationwide in digital form. LotInfo is an application that can be customized for virtually any geographic area in the U.S. based on the lot level data that are available for that area.

LotInfo’s workspace is very user-friendly, allowing users with virtually no GIS experience to begin working with the data and maps quickly. I have a few product usability suggestions on the placement and categorization of the LotInfo buttons, including moving the Block# button under the Layers drop down and moving the Other button from the Layers drop down to the Imp/Exp option since the Other button is really importing a shapefile into the workspace. I would move the Help button from the Find & Zoom window to its own button on the LotInfo toolbar. Lastly, I would display records immediately in the QueryLink – Spatial Query dialog box after records are selected with the Polygon QueryLink tools. I think these minor suggestions could provide the product with improved usability and organization.

Appendix A
LotInfo Pro: All 5 Boroughs
One-year subscription: $1,195.00
Two-year subscription: $1,995.00    
Three-year subscription: $2,595.00

Add-on modules

Property Sales:  Add-on Module with quarterly updates
One-year subscription: $395.00
Two-year subscription: $695.00          
Three-year subscription: $895.00  

Open Building Permits: Add-on Module with quarterly updates
One-year subscription: $395.00
Two-year subscription: $695.00          
Three-year subscription: $895.00 

Prices for LotInfo Pro and LotInfo GIS are per user (1 user = 1 PC)     


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