PC-based Geographic Information System (GIS) software is the most robust tool available for compiling, analyzing, and representing geospatial data. The leading commercial GIS package, ArcGIS, enjoys broad use and specialized extensions. Similarly, QGIS is one of the most widely used open-source GIS packages and has many similar capabilities as ArcGIS. ArcGIS only runs on Windows while QGIS is maintained across Windows, MacOS, and Linux platforms. Since QGIS is open source, there is robust third-party support and feature development.
PC-based GIS has the capability to interface with networked geospatial databases. This connectivity allows for distributed data input and analysis, as well as map sharing. However custom geospatial databases must be developed and maintained – which is costly. Web-based GIS platforms only provide a small number of features relative to PC-based GIS software. But web-based GIS platforms permit the sharing of static and dynamic maps quickly, easily, and securely, without the need for custom database solutions.
Some popular web-based GIS platforms include:
1) Google MyMaps (free)
Includes a basic set of GIS features such as distance measurement, area delimitation, georeferenced point identification, and map layering. Offers a number of basemap styles. Supports data import via Excel files. Map access permissions are controlled via Google’s user account system.
2) ArcGIS Online (subscription)
A web-based version of ArcGIS. Includes a more robust set of basic GIS features compared to Google MyMaps. Includes a broad set of map layers and imagery for the creation of unique base maps. A smartphone and tablet app, Collector for ArcGIS, allows for users to add data directly to ArcGIS Online maps from the field. ArcGIS online provides robust security measures that can limit shared maps and data to specific users within an organization, but also allows for the public sharing of maps and data.
3) BatchGeo (subscription)
BatchGeo provides an extended feature set for Google Maps, such as automated geospatial data import, the embedding of dynamic maps into websites, and basic spatial analysis.