Mapping subscription pinpoints savings

Everything Northampton, Mass., looked at to boost the usefulness of its Web site with interactive maps turned out to be too expensive. But now the city of 30,000 boasts a multilayered, citywide map on its site thanks to a $2,000-a-month subscription service.

Called BeyondGeo (www.beyondgeo.com), the service allows an almost unlimited number of feature layers to be overlaid on the map, which is put together at the BeyondGeo service location from data supplied by Northampton, and then posted directly to the city's Web site using HTML.

"We found, when we published our own maps [as PRF files], that no one was accessing them because they didn't have PDF readers," said Wayne Feiden, director of planning and development for Northampton. "We were losing [visitors] to the site, so we went looking for something that could come up in a Web browser that that could be searched."

As well as providing map services for the public, Feiden said the city has also been able to provide maps with specific data layers that are applicable to the work of the city's own departments. These maps are protected by a password unique to the city users who need to access them.

The advantages of the service, Feiden said, besides the city not having to invest in its own map servers, is that the maps can be put together from existing city geographic information systems data and resources.

Company officials at Blue Marble Geographics, which hosts the BeyondGeo service, believed they were on to a good thing when they saw GIS-related projects at municipalities the size of Northampton and realized the potential cost of the cities having to buy their own mapping servers, said Jeff Taplin, a spokesman for the firm.

With just the 100M of server space that the $2,000 monthly fee buys, the company enables customers to build maps that have hundreds of layers — and many more than that if they can afford more space.

"Five years from now, when mapping servers are easier to use, then I could see us setting up our own system," Feiden said. "But that's of marginal benefit to us right now."

Robinson is a freelance journalist based in Portland, Ore. He can be reached at hullite@mindspring.com.

About the Author

Brian Robinson is a freelance writer based in Portland, Ore.

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