I’ve been a little quiet on this blog since my flurry of posts about surviving the MPhil to Phd upgrade intact. I don’t really have a good reason for not posting; I guess I just haven’t been able to think of much worth saying.
This is not to say that I haven’t been doing anything, far from it! But I’ve discovered that, although we don’t get the long summer breaks to which I’ve become accustomed, life does slow down somewhat over summer for PhD students. This has allowed me to focus more time on actually doing some research – especially now that I’ve cleared the upgrade hurdle (that’s right, I’m a proper ‘official’ PhD student now).
At the moment I need to automate a GIS process for measuring various features of glacier valleys. For those of you who aren’t geoscientists, GIS stands for Geographic Information Systems, which are computer programs for handling spatial data. They’re used for everything from cartography through to choosing the best locations for a new wind farm or supermarket. In fact, you probably use GIS regularly without even realising it – Sat Navs and Google Maps are both types of GIS.
I use a program called ArcGIS for my research, which is made by ESRI. This program is very powerful and can perform all sorts of operations, but it isn’t the most user-friendly and takes a long time to learn how to operate. Previously you could get help with ArcGIS problems via online forums but earlier this year ERSI replaced these forums with ‘Geonet’. This is an online community that operates a lot like LinkedIn but for users of ArcGIS. Apparently they’re working on a Geonet mobile app and there’s even a cheesy promo video.
Interestingly, a range of polls on Geonet have mostly rated it as worse than the previous ESRI forums. I have to beg to differ – I always found the previous forums to be a total pain to find anything on whereas I find Geonet much easier to navigate. Perhaps part of this is due to the social media feel of it; which might appeal more to someone like me, who pretty much grew up using these platforms, rather than to users of the old ESRI forums. I just find the whole thing much friendlier and less tech-y, by which I mean it’s more intuitive for people who don’t already know a fair bit about ArcGIS. These people are likely to be a significant part of the audience for help forums and online communities like this, so I feel the new set-up is an improvement. Sure there are a few glitches and poorly thought out bits but the Geonet set-up is a complete departure from the previous forums, so I’d expect some teething issues.
Enough with the comparison to the old ESRI forums – if you are using ArcGIS and you have a problem should you bother going to Geonet? I’d say absolutely yes. Search the site and you may find that someone else has already had your problem and received a solution. Failing that, set up a profile and get asking your questions. I’ve done this myself and have been amazed at the speed and usefulness of the responses. I swear some people must be on Geonet practically all the time. Maybe that social media aspect is paying off?
Finding the appropriate ‘places’ and posting your questions there can also be a great way of getting relevant experts to see your post and tell you what you’re doing wrong. I find this especially useful for using Python scripts in Arc – my coding skills are limited at best so my scripts often throw errors that the good people of the Python place routinely correct for me!
I should note here that my other go-to source for GIS assistance is the GIS StackExchange, a useful site that is much more in the mould of the old ESRI forums. This is the place to go if you really can’t stand the new look Geonet. On the StackExchange there is a discussion of the pros and cons of Geonet, worth a look if you want more information about the new site than this brief review can give you.
p.s. The image for this post is a screenshot from a recent session of mine in ArcGIS. I particularly hate unspecified errors but posting information about what I was doing on Geonet did led to a solution on this occansion.