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The National Map

Home ← User-Centered Design for The National Map

User-Centered Design for The National Map

User-Centered Design

User-centered design is a process by which system developers work with users throughout information system development to make systems easier to use. In 2008-9, CEGIS researchers helped formulate, administer, and analyze a nationwide series of interviews and surveys to determine the current customer base for the online geographic data and maps that make up The National Map (Sugarbaker, Coray, and Poore 2009). This broad customer base is being refined into scenarios of use by the design team for The National Map to further develop the current user interface (

How is the Internet Changing Mapping?

In the past few years, rapid technological and social changes in the way geographic information is used on the Internet have enlarged the potential user base for products and services provided by The National Map, thus changing the focus of this research project. For example:

  • Web as platform: The official websites of national mapping agencies were established as "portals"—one-way doors through which users could search for and download data. Now there are many other avenues for users to access data, and many Internet mapping websites have become platforms for users to "mash-up" or integrate and combine basic geographic data with other data of their choosing from many different sources, even data that are not inherently geographic such as videos, text and photographs.

  • Users as producers: The Internet is erasing previous distinctions between data producers and users. With GPS in many cell phones and easy-to-use Internet mapping platforms, non-professional users have become data producers. In some areas if the world, user-generated content (sometimes referred to as volunteered geographic information) rivals the data produced by national mapping agencies.

  • Ubiquitous social software: Many of the mapping systems that depend on user-generated content have a significant social component. Social software (e.g. blogs, wikis, Twitter) is used on a regular basis for communication among users, providing instant feedback and assisting the formation of virtual communities that differ from data sharing arrangements in the past.

These changes in usage patterns were not well captured in the 2009 report, and this project is now focusing on defining this leading edge of geotechnology and collaborative data production. The changes will push an enhanced National Map "toward a service-oriented rather than system-oriented approach, a collective intelligence rather than a single knowledge base, data as the driving force, lightweight user interfaces and development models for fast and reliable system performance, mapping software that supports multiple devices (e.g., personal digital assistant [PDA], cellular phone), and direct feedback opportunities that support rich user experiences and user participation (National Research Council 2007: 50)."

Current focus of the User-Centered Design Project

Currently we are examining the world of user-generated geographic data asking:

  • How are changing technologies for mapping and for communication altering the technical and social processes of mapping?

  • Who are the new users?

  • What are their motivations?

  • What is the potential for users to contribute data to The National Map?

  • How can open-source technologies be used to expand the customer base for The National Map and enhance open government initiatives?

  • How can The National Map be used as a platform to support scientific collaboration and better public understanding of USGS science?


Dr. Barbara Poore
Eric Wolf
Holly Caro

Recent Publications:

Poore, Barbara S. (in press) "Going cyber: Users as essential contributors to spatial cyberinfrastructures." Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences 108.

_____________. 2010. "Wall-E and the many, many maps: Toward user-centered ontologies for The National Map". Cartographica 45 (2): 113-120.

Sugarbaker, Larry, Kevin Coray, and Barbara Poore. 2009. The National Map Customer Requirements: Findings from Interviews and Surveys. USGS Open-File Report 2009-1222.

Wilson, Matthew and Barbara Poore. 2009. "Theory, Practice, and History in Critical GIS: Reports on an AAG Panel Session". Cartographica 44 (1) 5-16.

Recent Conferences, Workshops, and Presentations:

Poore, Barbara. 2010. "What a long strange trip it's been:" Mapping and virtual community from The Grateful Dead to OpenStreetMap. Presented at 3rd International Symposium on the History of Cartography, Arlington, TX, October 10-13.

Poore, Barbara. 2010. Mapping the Unmappable: Is it possible, ethical, or even desirable to incorporate volunteered geographic information into scientific projects? Presented at the Workshop on Volunteered Geographic Information, GIScience 2010, September 14-17.

Poore, Barbara. 2010. The metadata crisis: Can geographic information be made more usable? Presented at Second Workshop on Geographic Data Usability, sponsored by the Ordnance Survey, University of Nottingham and University College London. March 23, 2010, London, England. PDF Slides

USGS Workshop on Volunteered Geographic Information, Reston, VA January 12-13, 2010. Project principles organized this workshop.


National Research Council. 2007. A Research Agenda for Geographic Information Science at the United States Geological Survey. Washington, DC: National Academy Press.


Finn, Michael P., and Barbara S. Poore (2009). Endeavors to Serve Digital Geospatial Data as a Commonly Offered Cache of Topographic Information. Abstract presented at the Joint International Workshop of International Society for Photogrammetry and Remote Sensing, Technical Commission IV, WG IV/1 & Technical Commission VIII, WG VIII on "Geospatial Data CyberInfrastructure and Real-time Services with special emphasis on Disaster Management," Hyderabad, India.

Wolf, Eric B., Kevin Howe, Michael P Finn, and Barbara S. Poore (2009). Functional Analysis for The National Map Server-side Computing. Abstract presented at the Association of American Geographers Annual Meeting, Las Vegas, NV.

Wolf, Eric B. (2009). Cloud Computing Explained. ACSM Bulletin 241: 31-33.

Wolf, Eric B., and Kevin Howe (2009). Web-Client Based Distributed Generalization and Geoprocessing. 2009 International Conference on Advanced Geographic Information Systems & Web Services: 123-128.

Finn, Michael P., and Barbara S. Poore (2008). Towards a User-Centered Design (UCD) for The National Map of the U.S. Geological Survey. Abstract presented at the XXI Congress of the International Society for Photogrammetry and Remote Sensing, Beijing, PRC.

Finn, Michael P., Barbara S. Poore, and Mark R. Feller (2008). Towards a More Consistent Framework for Disseminated Spatial Computing for The National Map. Abstract presented at the Association of American Geographers Annual Meeting, Boston, MA.

Poore, Barbara S., and Michael P. Finn (2008). User-Centered Design for Spatial Data Infrastructures: Implications of New Internet Technologies. Proceedings Auto-Carto 2008, A Cartography and Geographic Information Society Research Symposium, Shepherdstown, WV.

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