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With the new year upon us and the recently announced MAPublisher 10 having been launched, it seemed like a great time to reach out and touch base with Ted Florence, President of Avenza Systems Inc., to kick off Spatial Media’s 2018 GeoTech Pro Q&A. We hear from Ted regarding MAPublisher 10, Avenza Systems, and his plans for 2018.
Q: MAPublisher Release 10 – In November you rolled out the official release of MAPublisher 10. Typically any release with a “0” on it like this is a big deal. So, for Avenza Systems do you view MAPublisher 10 as a milestone release and how so?
Ted: MAPublisher 10 was definitely a milestone release for us. On the surface, an updated interface with high-definition screen support and a lot of new features were added including new data linking and new data filtering capabilities. Even more so were changes under the hood. We upgraded many of the architectural components of how we handle geospatial data and work with it seamlessly in Adobe Illustrator. This allows us to not only make it easier to develop better cartographic and GIS tools but also makes it easier to improve MAPublisher in the future. And of course, we also added support for the latest Adobe Illustrator Creative Cloud 2018 release.
Q: We browsed the new features list and it’s quite extensive. Is there one or two things here that you are really excited to have included in this release?
Ted: The major feature with most of our updates is making sure compatibility with the latest Adobe Illustrator CC 2018 is ready for our users. It’s great to see how Adobe Illustrator has been developed over the years and we’ve learned to adapt and develop tools that work well with their new or improved tools. The Scale Bar tool is another feature we’re excited about in this release. We worked closely with several of our customers to develop and shape it to be more customizable and accurate. Users can start with one of the redesigned templates, or use the settings to design their own. And as with other map elements, it can be further customized using Adobe Illustrator tools.
Q: I know from experience that dealing with map projections and transformations can be a real headache for GIS professionals. Can MAPublisher ease the pain here?
Ted: We certainly know what the headache is. Fortunately, MAPublisher can handle thousands of coordinate systems and projections. In reality, most GIS professionals will only use a handful of them for their projects and over the years we’ve tried to streamline the process. We made objects that sit on Adobe Illustrator artboards called MAP Views that are essentially containers for all of your geographic data. Transforming the coordinate system of a MAP View is as simple as picking it from a list or performing a simple drag-and-drop. Any subsequent data imported into that MAP View can automatically be projected on-the-fly to the same coordinate system. If certain coordinate systems don’t match, options allow you to put into another MAP View. We try to present users with as much information and options to handle the data as we can so they can make guided choices and we strive to always remain current with new projections and updates to existing ones and datums.
Q: Labelling is another cartographic pain point for many GIS professionals. It seems to me that this is an area where MAPublisher can really shine. Is it really that easy and why use MAPublisher for this important step?
Ted: Depending on your level of mapping experience, labeling is just one of those production steps that can take a lot of time to do and get right and is often quite tedious as well. I can see why it can be a pain point for many GIS professionals because they may not have that much time to finely tune and tweak label placement. Also, text-placement tools available in most GIS software leave a lot to be desired. Thankfully, MAPublisher’s labeling tools combined with Adobe Illustrator’s text tools provide the flexibility and power to label features exactly the way you want. Since labels are heavily driven by the attributes behind the art, starting with good data helps tremendously. Text can be placed by simply clicking on a map feature or programmatically en masse using the advanced collision-free and rule-based features of the MAPublisher LabelPro add-on.
Q: Data formats and interoperability seems to have always been another huge pain point for GIS professionals. How would you describe your products in handling/supporting a wide array of data formats?
Ted: Combined, MAPublisher and Geographic Imager, currently supports more than 70 of the most popular geospatial formats used in the industry and we are constantly adding more. One of the obstacles we commonly encounter when speaking with GIS professionals is that they didn’t know our products can handle as many data formats as it does. We can handle the shapefiles, geodatabases, and many formats that large, commercial GIS software can. Most professionals will be able to work completely within our products—from data import to production—without having to open another GIS or graphic design application.
Q: Are there any MAPublisher users that you can share as being all-stars? What makes them stand out?
Ted: MAPublisher is an integral tool for National Geographic in Washington, DC and Denver, Colorado, where it’s used by the cartography department to produce maps for print and web. MAPublisher is used to import many sources of GIS data that are derived from agencies at the federal, state, and county levels. National Geographic is able to create rich cartographic products using MAPublisher’s GIS functionalities all within the common Adobe Illustrator environment, and are able to quickly update their products when source data is updated due to geospatial information being retained.
MAPublisher is also extensively used by the Adventure Cycling Association of Missoula, Montana, where they have redefined their productivity and allowed for big gains in their cartographic workflows. The company researches and produces cycling maps for the Adventure Cycling Route Network, one of the largest cycling route networks in the world at 46,846 miles and growing.
And one more major MAPublisher user that comes to mind is the New York Times which has a large number of licenses that they use daily in the production of maps for the newspaper and website. Over the years, we’ve seen many impressive geopolitical maps produced by their team.
Q: You offer in-person training sessions that are typically conveniently located at or near industry events/conferences. How has the training been going for your group?
Ted: It’s been going very well. You’re right. We offer many training courses throughout the year and often near industry events and conferences. The comprehensive two-day course covers introductory concepts and more advanced features with attention paid to where the map will be used, whether it’s for print, web, or mobile. This year we’re offering courses in Los Angeles, New Orleans, Dallas, Seattle, and two courses in Washington DC.
Q: For anyone considering training what would you tell them?
Ted: Hands-on training is one of the best ways to learn our products. We like to keep the class sizes small so that our instructors have a chance to reach everyone in the class, no matter their previous experience with GIS or mapping. Our instructors are also application specialists who work with the development team to improve and test the software, so they know the software very well and know some of the fine details and time-saving workflows that someone wouldn’t get from just doing the included documentation or tutorials.
Q: I’m always surprised by the lack of software/solutions for GIS professionals that live in the Mac ecosystem. You’ve always supported this is seems. Why do you think others avoid that space?
Ted: Traditionally, many of the GIS, CAD and other mapping software have been created almost exclusively for Windows. I think GIS software producers are staying in the Windows environment because it’s expensive to port software to a Mac version and continue to develop and maintain it. There are many technical challenges behind it as well. We’ve been very successful supporting Mac because many of our users are cartographers, graphic designers, and content producers prefer Macs. However, we also have a large number of users on Windows systems and we know they are also using GIS software not available on Mac. The split between our Windows and Mac users is actually quite close at 60/40. At the end of the day, we, at Avenza, are more focused on map output quality and the processes that go into designing and producing the best quality map products possible for any media or publishing channel. As Mac is the platform of choice for many designers and cartographers, we find it important to make our products available for Mac users.
Q: Your Avenza Maps mobile app – more than a million maps in the Map Store so far. How have you seen things growing? Any surprises? What’s the biggest hot point of this and who should be adopting Avenza Maps?
Ted: Avenza Maps app is not showing any signs of slowing down and is growing on all fronts: map publisher sales, professional use, and consumer use. Our goal is to become the “iTunes of maps”. In other words, if you need a map, you can get it at Avenza Maps. Every quarter we’re adding more map publishers, many of them national mapping agencies, and tens of thousands of maps. This has translated into very positive growth and a successful sales channel for our vendors. Professional users in many industries have quickly adopted this as the go-to offline maps app. Perhaps not a big surprise to us but when a large company buys a few licenses just to test out the product, it often turns into a wider adoption shortly after. When we do some customer follow-up, it’s nice to know that they find the app useful and easy to use. Consumer activity has also increased significantly as we add content on the Avenza Map Store. One of the biggest selling points of the app is the ability to access maps from large map publishers like National Geographic.
Q: How was 2017 for Avenza as a company? Any milestones to speak of, challenges faced and growth milestones you can share?
Ted: 2017 was one of the best years for Avenza. We had successful releases of Avenza Maps, MAPublisher, and Geographic Imager. For Avenza Maps in particular, one of our milestones in 2017 was to get a version of it approved and live on GEOINT App Store, started by the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency. It includes all of the Avenza Maps Pro features and, more importantly, allows unlimited access to maps in the Map Store. We’re happy to have achieved this and Department of Defence and intelligence community members are now able to download the app and download maps for use it for mission related situations.
One of the biggest challenges we face at the moment is a shortage of qualified developers. We have grand ambitions for 2018 and beyond and we are actively seeking folks who want to join our growing company and participate in all our exciting activities and projects.
Q: Can you share what we might be hearing from you this year? Are partnerships important to your company and anything special here to speak of?
Ted: 2018 will see huge advancements in the mobile Avenza Maps platform for both the consumer and professional user bases. Upcoming releases will likely see advances in location and data sharing as well many enhancements devoted primarily to growing Pro version subscribers as well as an Android version for the GEOINT App Store. On the desktop side, we will continue to keep up with Adobe’s Creative Cloud release schedule while adding many new features to both MAPublisher and Geographic Imager to further enhance the map production and spatial imaging workflows.