Mapboard GIS

Open­ness and in­ter­op­er­abil­ity

Map­board GIS is de­signed by and for Earth Sci­ence re­searchers, and we’re hop­ing to be good open-sci­ence cit­i­zens. We are try­ing to build a fo­cused tool which fun­da­men­tally re­thinks one small part of the com­plex process of map­mak­ing in the geo­sciences. An im­por­tant as­pect of work­ing on a tar­geted tool is forg­ing strong links with other parts of the process, and ac­cord­ingly, we want to make it as easy as pos­si­ble to share data be­tween sys­tems.

We sup­port an open sys­tem chiefly by us­ing in­dus­try-stan­dard, open-source for­mats for data stor­age and main­tain­ing di­rect links to desk­top GIS sys­tems.

Open spa­tial data­base for­mats

The .mapboard-project files that back the app are Spa­tialite data­bases can be di­rectly read by stan­dard GIS sys­tems (e.g., Ar­cGIS and QGIS). Meta­data can be edited in data­base browser ap­pli­ca­tions such as SQLite Browser.

The Spa­tialite file for­mat can be freely shared and read by desk­top GIS soft­ware.

In teth­ered mode, data streams di­rectly from Map­board GIS into Post­GIS, where it can ac­cessed by other sys­tems im­me­di­ately upon cre­ation.

With its server ex­ten­sions, Map­board GIS can con­nect to a Post­GIS data­base along­side desk­top GIS soft­ware.

Since Map­board works di­rectly with spa­tial data­bases, no data im­port or ex­port is needed for in­ter­op­er­abil­ity. This sim­pli­fies the app and al­lows it to work smoothly in con­cert with desk­top GIS. Con­versely, pro­duc­ing spe­cific out­put for­mats like Shape­files1 re­quires trans­for­ma­tion us­ing desk­top GIS pack­ages.

Next steps

On-de­vice in­te­gra­tion with other field apps

Ge­o­logic field­work is a com­plex and mul­ti­fac­eted ac­tiv­ity, and one ap­pli­ca­tion will never fully cap­ture re­searchers’ needs. There are many apps for cap­tur­ing point-data mea­sure­ments and out­crop im­ages, for in­stance, and Map­board GIS gains lit­tle from reim­ple­ment­ing that as­pect of field work­flows.

Even­tu­ally, we hope Map­board GIS will be­come part of an ecosys­tem of in­ter­op­er­a­ble apps for map­ping, sam­pling, ori­en­ta­tion cap­ture, struc­tural analy­sis, and strati­graphic mea­sure­ment. This has been dif­fi­cult to achieve on mo­bile plat­forms so far. How­ever, in the last few years, Ap­ple’s iPa­dOS plat­form has grown up some­what to al­low more mul­ti­task­ing ca­pa­bil­i­ties, mak­ing the way for­ward a bit eas­ier to imag­ine. For in­stance, with the re­cent open­ing of the iPad’s file-man­age­ment ca­pa­bil­i­ties, Map­board GIS and other apps should be able to di­rectly use files (par­tic­u­larly MBTiles basemaps) in each oth­ers’ ap­pli­ca­tion fold­ers or else­where on the de­vice.

Thoughts on open-source

Map­board GIS is not (cur­rently) open-source soft­ware. We un­der­stand the value of free soft­ware to open sci­ence, but we think that keep­ing our work close is a use­ful pre­cau­tion right now. Build­ing em­bed­ded sys­tems is dif­fi­cult and time-con­sum­ing, and we’ve seen rel­a­tively few iOS apps that have suc­cess­fully built sus­tain­able open-source mod­els at this point.

We be­lieve that Map­board GIS can serve the goals of open sci­ence even as closed-source, sub­scrip­tion-based soft­ware. Since we rely on open file for­mats for data stor­age, the app will be at home within open-source work­flows. Also, both the Post­GIS Ge­o­logic Map pro­ject, the ref­er­ence im­ple­men­ta­tion for our it­er­a­tive topol­ogy work­flow, and the Map­board GIS server com­po­nents are open-source. These can po­ten­tially be cus­tomized to link the app with other pro­jects as needed.

The Map­board GIS code­base is struc­tured to al­low open­ing it in the fu­ture, should the re­quire­ments or our abil­ity to sup­port the pro­ject change. We’re open to ad­just­ing our pric­ing model and man­age­ment strat­egy go­ing for­ward, es­pe­cially if op­por­tu­ni­ties for code-level col­lab­o­ra­tion arise. Feel free to con­tact us with ques­tions, con­cerns, or sug­ges­tions about our ap­proach.


  1. Even though you ab­solutely should­n’t use Shape­files.