Mobile Tool Review: GIS Cloud Mobile Data Collection

iPhone with app displayed

This Mobile Tool Review was written by Nicole Condon, CTRL Trainer and Consultant.

GIS Cloud Mobile Data Collection


Free basic service (one device and public map)
$20 premium service per device per month (private maps, better vector feature, and storage limits)


Apple App Store (iOS) and Google Play (Android) or through

What does it do?

This app allows you to gather real-time, media-enriched location information in the field. GIS Cloud Mobile Data Collection app provides a low-cost and feature-rich alternative to other geographical information system (GIS) collection services and devices. It uses the cloud to send data points and attributes directly to a custom layer on a personalized map. Access, analyze, share, and publish your data in the GIS Cloud Map Editor (available in both free and paid editions) through any web browser in real time. Features include custom form building for data collection through the mobile app and the ability to assign media (image and audio) attributes.

Which class can you use it in?

Courses that include collecting GIS or survey data in the field would find this app very useful.  It allows instant visualization and organizes data collection from multiple users, which makes collaborating on class projects very simple and fast. This is also a fantastic tool for qualitative and quantitative research data collection.


  • Ease of use
  • Flexibility of data collection
  • Much cheaper than similar alternatives (like ArcGIS mobile collection)
  • Offline data capture allows information to be sent later
  • Instant review of maps with point data and attributes for each collection on your mobile device, including images and recorded audio
  • Images and audio attachments broaden the research potential for this tool, as a researcher can collect photographic evidence and interviews in one place
  • Data is automatically arranged into a table, which can be easily saved and imported into both ArcGIS and Google Earth


  • As a relatively new app, the tool might face the growing pains associated with Beta testing
  • Utilizing all of the app’s capabilities is dependent upon each individual’s phone/tablet capabilities and data plans
  • Currently, the mobile app only allows users to create point shapes in the field. The ability to create lines and polygons should be available in 2014
  • Limited editing and spatial analysis tools.  However, importing data into another program like ArcGIS, Google Earth, or Python will solve this problem
  • Researchers that need to create private maps and larger storage need to pay a monthly fee

Overall Grade

B+ for potential use.  The next year of development for this app will be critical in determining just how effective of a tool this can be.

Additional Information

Make a Map in a Snap

Sometimes a presentation or paper is just…missing something. Many times, a map, specially tailored to your research, is just what you need. Nearly every aspect of social science research has a geospatial component. From economics to sociology, social sciences study human events that take place in a geographic context. Adding a map to your research presentation can be an effective way to communicate your findings.

Just think of how many pages it would take to describe the contents of just one map. Look at this student work, for example, showing disputing maritime boundaries:

(Map credit: Kisei Tanaka, full project online here.

There’s no way that all of that information could have been presented effectively without a map. And it’s pretty,too.

Lucky for you, making a simple map is now almost as easy as getting directions online. (And way easier than getting directions with Apple iOS6). The most commonly used free-and-simple program is Google Earth. (We talked about some other free programs here.) If you’ve used Google Maps to get directions, then you’re on your way to being a Google Earth user.

Once you’ve downloaded Google Earth, you can select from a wide variety of layers to get the right background map for your project. Think of layers as transparencies – you need a clear base, and then you can add on the levels of information you need. For example, a project looking at transportation networks would need a layer of roads, but a project researching river pollution wouldn’t. It’s up to you.

After you’ve picked your layers and zoomed in to the location you want, you might want to add points or lines. Google Earth calls these “Placemarks” and “Paths”, but they amount to the same thing. Creating a placemark is as simple as selecting the pushpin icon and clicking where you’d like the point located. You can change the icon and the label to give the information you need.

(The Google Earth toolbar – for placemarks use the pushpin, and paths use the third button, the squiggly line with three nodes)

In the map above, the user created a red path showing Bangladesh’s maritime claim, and a yellow path showing India’s claim. To create your own path, you just select the path icon, click along the map to create a straight line with nodes, or click and drag for a free-form path. (For more accuracy, you can also import Lat/Long…but that’s a story for another post.)

After you’ve got your path or placemarks set up, you come to the fun part. Google Earth is 3-D, so you don’t have to be stuck with the boring overhead view if you don’t want to. For example, in this shot from a Google tutorial, the user has decided that an angle from the coast looking toward the bay is the best presentation of information. Again, it’s up to you.

Hopefully by now you’ve realized just how easy it can be to take your research presentation to the next level. Google Earth has some great tutorials online, and it has a thriving online community of users as well. Make your next presentation pop by adding an easy map.

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Four (Free) Online GIS Programs

Need a GIS program but don’t have access to ArcGIS for Desktop? Check out four GIS programs available online. You can be using mapping software within minutes!

Why GIS? A GIS (geographic information system) allows you to study relationships between different layers and detect causal relationships between different variables. Using a GIS, you can create dynamic maps that show change over time, and you can create predictive models. GIS has been used in many industries for decision-making and policy formulation. It has been prominent in the environmental and agricultural sector (how does climate change affect crops?), but has recently flourished in the business sector (i.e.: where to open a new bakery?) and is rapidly expanding into new sectors such as conflict management (i.e.: crisis mapping).

Google Earth

Google Earth maps the Earth by using superimposed images obtained from satellite imagery and aerial photography. You can explore layers created by other Google Earth users or create your own layers to display data and other information on the Google Earth maps. Using the place mark feature, you can pinpoint a location on the map and edit information about a specific location, even add an image or video to your place mark “bubble”.  Likewise, you can create polygon shapes, paths, and image overlays to represent areas on the map.  You can save your work as a .jpeg image or as a .kml or .kmz file (special file formats by Google Earth).  Use the history tool to go explore past satellite imagery available for a location, or create a tour of all your place marks while recording your voice.

Open Street Map

OSM creates and provides free geographic data and mapping to anyone around the globe. It’s the Wiki of maps. OSM was created to allow people around the world to share and create maps in creative, productive, or unexpected ways OSM includes more detailed maps than other sites, however, it does not offer the ability to analyze data. For example, you can find an address in a small town of Thailand and you can edit the map to add your favorite restaurant, but you cannot add a layer that shows robberies in that city (even if you have that layer saved somewhere).


GeoCommons is the public community of GeoIQ users who are building an open repository of data and maps for the world. The GeoIQ platform includes a large number of features that empower you to easily access, visualize and analyze your data for free.


Crowdmap is a tool that allows you to crowdsource information and see it on a map and timeline. It does not require software installation and allows you to visualize information on a map in a quick and easy way. Crowdmap works in three simple steps: 1) Collect information from cell phones, news and the web; 2) aggregate the information collected into a single platform; 3) visualize the information on a map and timeline. For example, Crowdmap is often used to monitor elections or for crisis mapping.

Which one do you prefer?


“I never took a geography class. Can I use GIS?”

GIS (Geographic Information Systems) is about making maps, but you do not have to be a geographer to use GIS technology. There are actually many easy-to-use and free applications that will allow you to make maps. It all depends on what you want to show, who you want to show it to, and what message you want to give. Maps are like images: they worth 1,000 words….but only if they convey the right message.

There is a lot that goes into creating a map before you even start designing it. You have to know why you are creating the map (purpose), who you are making it for (audience), and how you are going to present your story (data). The same map can be interpreted differently by various audiences, so you must take time to think about what you are going to map before you actually start mapping it.

Once you have thought about the what, how and whom, you can start thinking about the best technology to use for making your map. There are several ways you can create maps without being a bonafide cartographer. Let’s say you are just trying to map an event about how many people ate at a food truck today in Washington DC. You can try using Crowdmap, which allows you to crowdsource information and visualize data on a map.

If you wanted to calculate the shortest distance between your house and the nearest hospital, you may need to perform distance analysis using Arc GIS (examples of maps created by ArcGIS below), which allows you to create layered maps and view spatial data.  ArcGIS is available in the Hurst lab.

Then there is the free and popular option, Google Earth, that allows you to create placemarks and add data to specific locations.

Bottom line: Then answer is YES, you can use GIS even if you haven’t taken a geography course. These are only a few of the names out there that will help you map data.  Once you know what you want to map, you just need to choose the right tool to get started.

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Qualitative Challenge: Is GIS a qualitative research tool?

Earlier this week three of our staff presented NVivo, Google Earth and ArcGIS to a qualitative research methods class in SIS. Our goal was to simply introduce a few software programs that can be helpful for researchers using qualitative methods such as content analysis, indepth interviews, focus groups or ethnography. It was easy to see how NVivo was appropriate -it is the industry standard for computer-assisted qualitative analysis. But what about Google Earth and ArcGIS which are both used for geo-spatial research?

Our staff created possible research problems that would require Google Earth or ArcGIS. One example included comparing locations of poverty and locations of conflict in a particular country. Other ideas were to map ethnicity and war or education levels and war. (Can you tell the students were from International Peace and Conflict Resolution?) In
reality, many of the organizations that utilize the program for projects of feasibility, monitoring, and implementation.

We ended our presentation with this question for the class: Do you think GIS classifies as a qualitative research method tool?

Please give us your feedback  [If you don’t see the comment box below, click on the title of the post].

Google Earth Pro now available in Hurst lab

pinpoint Google Earth Pro

The Hurst lab gained a new addition to the family of supported software! Google Earth Pro, an upgraded version of the traditional Google Earth, is now available as a specialty program on one of our machines. Just look for the monitor labeled Google Earth Pro – that will be the only computer with the software installed.

The Pro version includes all of the same functions that regular Google Earth has, such as the satellite imagery database, the ability to explore any point on the planet or space, and the ability to search for buildings, streets, and parks. You will also find the tools to rotate and tilt the view in 3D or draw on your map on both versions.

It is different from Google Earth in four main ways:

1. High-resolution capability:
Google Earth Pro uses the same imagery database as the free version, so there are no changes to the locations you see in Google Earth Pro. However, with Google Earth Pro, you can print these locations at a higher resolution. You can save images in 1400, 2400, and 4800 pixels.

2. Includes GIS data input tools:
Import point, lines and path, and polygon vector data.

3. Area measurement:
In addition to measuring with a line or a path, you can measure with a circle radius or polygon. This is handy for finding the area of nontraditional shapes and sizes.

4. Movie maker:
You can use the Movie Maker feature of Google Earth to record 3D viewer imagery and save the recording as a movie file. You can either set the recorder to record your interactions with the 3D viewer in real-time, or you can set up a tour and record the entire tour without interruption.

Google Earth Pro is generally used for commercial use by NGOs and businesses, and now it is available to the students and faculty at AU. Grab the world by the click of a mouse and check out Google Earth in our lab. Regular Google Earth is also available on all the computers in the Hurst and SPA labs.