The Most Important App Might Not Be The Most Fun

mobile device with applications as tiles

I have a confession to make: my organization’s most viewed and most important web map app is not my favorite app to work on.  And it’s taken me awhile to realize that this app is the one that needs to be the highest priority.  The Cumberland County Property Mapper receives around 98% percent of our web map traffic month over month.  It is also one of the most viewed county sites after the homepage.

In January 2017 we transitioned this app from Esri’s Flex Viewer to Web AppBuilder.  It was a smart move.  We moved from a flash-based viewer that was not mobile friendly to a HTML5/JavaScript site that works well across devices.  But still, I would rather be developing apps using Leaflet.js and a Bootstrap wrapper.

But at the end of the day, the Property Mapper is the map app the public is most interested in.  People can search for their property and get their tax assessment information.  They can search for properties that have sold within a certain date range and sale value.  They can view oblique (bird’s eye) imagery from past imagery flights.  Some use this site to compare against other similar properties in preparation to appeal their property’s assessed value.

screen shot of the Cumberland County Property Mapper web map application
Screen shot of the Property Mapper

And this year, one of my primary projects is to research and hopefully push some enhancements to the Property Mapper.  We recently pushed an update to the site, which included a mobile bug fix and some UI improvements.  There are some before and after images later in this post.  One of the main style changes was incorporating the blue color theme (and black hover/focus transition) throughout the various buttons/widgets/etc.  I’ve written previously about various CSS tricks I use with Web AppBuilder platform.  I also fixed some mobile z-index issues for some secondary widgets.

These issues were discovered during a mobile review of all apps.  I once read an article that recommended checking your websites/apps on a weekly/monthly basis to make sure they are working as expected.  My continuing goal is to complete monthly reviews of these sites.  Review desktop on odd months and mobile on the even ones.  While I’m falling short of this goal, a review from last year resulted in many minor tweaks to make to our arsenal of web map apps.

The main driver for performing an update to the Property Mapper was to change the data source for the main map service.  Before this change, pulling new data into our enterprise geodatabase would require taking the services and sites down for 20-40 minutes every week.  The new solution involves hooking the map service into a file geodatabase on our server’s data store.  We have automated, off-hours scripts that update the datasets and rebuild the service tile cache.  Now, we won’t have to create downtime for our users.

screen shot of before and after of property mapper site on mobile device
The new version contains better color branding and new map extent buttons

 

screen shot of before and after of property mapper site on mobile device
The white borders look better than the grays.  Another branding change.

 

property-mapper-mobile-zindex-issues
Due to z-index issues, the color ramp did not appear. Always get hung up on z-idex.

There are some exciting improvements I hope to make by the end of this year.  When were developing the Property Mapper upgrade in 2016, we were interested in implementing the Popup Panel Widget.  This would place the pop-up content in a side panel instead of the standard pop-up.  This provides a consistent user experience for where information is displayed when selecting a parcel.  Unfortunately the plugin did not work on mobile.  The good news is this issue has since been fixed.

Another widget we wanted to add was Google Streetview.  People seem to love this!  We had tested a widget, but a couple months before deployment we became aware of a terms of service conflict.  According to Section 10.4.e, “You must not use the Content in a Maps API Implementation that contains a non-Google map.”  I’ve definitely seen Esri maps using StreetView.  So either they are violating the terms, or they know something I don’t.  I’m not hopeful this will be resolved, but I’ll dig a little deeper this time around.

I think our biggest issue with transitioning from Flex Viewer to Web AppBuilder was printing the map.  With Flex Viewer, if a feature was selected, the pop-up would be included in the print out.  But that is not the case with Web AppBuilder.  Our current work around is using a CSS print media query that takes the content of the pop-up and puts it on a separate page.  But it is difficult to get the map positioned correctly so the property is centered.  Fortunately, some neighbooring counties have come up with solutions that involve Esri’s Data Driven Pages and creating a pdf “property card” that is linked to each feature.  This is probably the best improvement we could make.

Any tips or stories you want to share about developing web map apps or using Esri’s Web AppBuilder?

 

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