Originally conceived as a planning tool, HeritageMaps.ie is a user-driven, web-based mapviewer focusing on the built, cultural and natural heritage around Ireland and offshore. Its potential for use by the general public was quickly realised and users can now access 700+ up-to-date heritage datasets in map-form, originally provided across many Govt. platforms. HeritageMaps.ie a free ‘one-stop-shop’ for heritage data and acts as a discovery portal, providing direct links to promote research.
Heritage Maps brings together, and allows you to look at and analyse, a wide range of built, cultural and natural heritage data-sets in map form - many of which have never been accessible to the public before. HeritageMaps.ie takes local authority, state agency and government departmental spatial data and, for the first time, pulls it all into one instinctual, user-friendly and intelligent map-viewer.
It allows users overlay many diverse maps for a region of interest and eliminates the need to access several portals to obtain information on archaeology, architecture, biodiversity, geology, habitats, planning and more. HeritageMaps.ie can be used to create customized maps, measure area and distance, identify points of interest and study local flora and fauna, as well as many other uses, both recreational and research-based. HeritageMaps.ie is pulling together local authority information and surveys with a view to creating a range of national coverage datasets, never before collated. HeritageMaps.ie is also involved in creating nationally important datasets on a range of important, yet diverse subjects including, Sheela-na-Gigs, Stained Glass, Museums, Maritime Collections and much more. Importantly, there is a large range of datasets unique to this project including thematic county heritage surveys, creation of which has been supported by the Heritage Council (HC) and the Heritage Officer Network (HON).
The Heritage Maps viewer acts as a “one stop shop” discovery tool, as it provides access to heritage data along with contextual data from a very wide range of sources. Offering a unique perspective on Ireland’s heritage, users can create cross-disciplinary views from hundreds of datasets - crossing over administrative boundaries, subject boundaries, and the land-sea boundary. It uses web services to access live data where possible, thereby increasing data reliability. Currently in development are two important new initiatives that will become a vital part of HeritageMaps.ie. First is an ‘Early Maps of Ireland’ image viewer that will allow access to high resolution digital imagery of maps of Ireland ranging from the 14th to 20th C., with maps being provided by repositories worldwide. The second initiative is a ‘Climate Adaptation’ viewer that will provide access to a broad range of current and historic digital climate, coastal and marine data to promote and further research in this field.
Heritagemaps.ie is a map portal for everyone - from professional architects to community groups, from primary school students to PhD candidates, from amateur historians to tourists - both in Ireland and worldwide. HeritageMaps.ie offers a unique perspective on Ireland’s heritage, and urges users to find their own.
To summarise, HeritageMaps.ie, originally conceived as a local government planning tool, is a user-driven, web-based mapviewer which focuses on the built, cultural and natural heritage around Ireland and off shore. Its potential for use by students, researchers, professionals and the general public was quickly realised and users can now, in one place, access over 700 up-to-date heritage-related datasets in map-form, originally provided across many platforms by upto 70 local authorities, state agencies and government departments. HeritageMaps.ie a free ‘one-stop-shop’ for heritage data and acts as a discovery portal, providing direct links to supplementary and individual point information, images, reports and websites, in order to stimulate and promote further research.
What Makes Your Project Innovative?
Pat Reid started working on the original Heritage Maps viewer in 2013. He identified two things: the enormous appetite for heritage data amongst professionals and non-professionals outside of the local authorities, and the need to host all heritage-related data in one openly-accessible geographic information system (GIS). The decision was taken to redevelop, redesign, rebrand and relaunch as HeritageMaps.ie.
This involved pulling together open-data from a vast range of sources nationwide, increasing the number of maps from 180 to over 700 (and growing), negating the need to visit a multiple of differing websites, using a multiple of differing GIS. A new interface was painstakingly developed so even the most inexperienced computer users could navigate easily and instinctually. Pat’s retired father was the yardstick for success – if he could use the viewer, then so could anyone! It was launched during Heritage Week 2016 and its user numbers jumped from 3,000 to 70,000 its first year.
What is the current status of your innovation?
IDENTIFYING PROBLEMS AND DESIGNING SOLUTIONS: Being user-driven, we strive to make the viewer more user friendly and technically useful by streamlining and adapting our folder layouts, improving functionality and design, introducing requested tools and base-maps, developing custom widgets. GENERATING IDEAS AND OPPORTUNITIES: We are constantly on the lookout for new data for our viewer. We use all opportunities to build constructive and mutually beneficial relationships with all our data providers. We are showcased on data.gov.ie for our development of bespoke heritage datasets that are available as open-data. IMPLEMENATION: We are constantly drawing in new data, creating new bespoke datasets, developing new types of viewerswith specific outputs, and striving to promote in Ireland and beyond. DIFFUSING LESSONS: We are using our development knowledge and model to assist local authorities and EU projects to develop similar, smaller, localised or regional projects based on our GIS system.
Collaborations & Partnerships
HeritageMaps.ie is the result of a successful collaboration between the Heritage Council (Owner), Pat Reid (GIS Heritage Consultant and Project Manager), local authority Heritage Officer Network (Contributors and clients), National Biodiversity Data Centre (Contributors and advisors) and Compass Informatics (Developer). We draw our data from an extensive range of local authorities, state agencies and government departments, too numerous to mention.
Users, Stakeholders & Beneficiaries
The viewer is extremely useful for professionals, businesses and government employees at all levels, drawing together information to one access point.
Research users include amateur historians, genealogists, community groups, school children, third level students and domestic and foreign tourists.
We promote amongst local history groups by attending seminars and conferences,
Private companies can utilise any data we produce, and we provide third party access, via metadata and weblinks.
Results, Outcomes & Impacts
The results and impacts have presented in vastly increased user numbers (Google Analytics), request for radio and press interviews (nationally and worldwide), government showcases, request for attendance at conferences and seminars, use of the resource in conference power-points, uptake as part of schools curriculum and inclusion as a resource for a broad range of college courses at home and worldwide. We expect this broad usage to keep growing and spreading as the viewer is promoted and becomes the ‘go-to’ resource for all things Irish Heritage related. In its first year, HeritageMaps.ie had an increase in user numbers of 544% on the total lifespan of the original Heritage Maps viewer (2012-2016). 27% (over 16k) of these users were based in the Republic of Ireland, 25% (15k) were US users, over 21% (12.5k) were in the UK and 10.5% (over 6k) were Japanese.
Challenges and Failures
The HeritageMaps.ie redesign posed many problems. Categorising data into an accessible, sensible folder layout to allow users easily find relevant data was a difficult task owing to the volume of data being made available. Limitations in software technology led to several issues that were overcome by the development of a suite of custom widgets to meet user functionality demand. We are still striving to develop and add certain functionality in the face of software shortfalls. We have put a lot of developer time into overcoming these issues and will continue developing the functionality of the viewer as new technology becomes available. We will continue seeking and creating new data to ensure HeritageMaps.ie remains at the leading edge of Ireland’s digital heritage.
Conditions for Success
Heritagemaps.ie requires a certain amount of infrastructure, guidance, finance and motivation to continue developing. As digital resources improve and become more readily available, HeritageMaps.ie will need to keep ahead of these developments. The viewer will need a full-time project manager, suitable developer time and adequate hosting services. It will also require input from the Heritage Council, who are best positioned to learn of new map resources, and to guide the project manager and development partner(s). It will remain heavily dependent on financial resources from the Heritage Council as the viewer is a cultural resource and should remain not-for-profit and advert-free. It currently benefits from having a number of highly skilled, knowledgeable and extremely motivated individuals working together to bring this exceptional resource into the public domain.
The HeritageMaps.ie viewer has attracted interest from several institutions wanting to partner with us, to copy our template and to replicate commercially. We have engaged with the one local authority to host the Dublin Archaeology viewer, available in the HeritageMaps.ie suite. We created the Dublin Bay viewer for the Dublin Dashboard project. We developed the Burren GeoPark LIFE viewer for an EU LIFE Project to develop a digital toolkit for the Burren and Cliffs of Moher Geopark. We have had approaches from private companies about replicating HeritageMaps.ie for commercial purposes and offered advice, contact lists and access to our own data.
HeritageMaps.ie has the potential to be replicated in any country worldwide, be it at provincial or state level. Such viewers would bring heritage into the digital age, making each individual region’s heritage accessible and researchable worldwide – essentially bringing the past into the present and making it available for the future.
As HeritageMaps.ie was being developed, we constantly thought ‘we should add this now’ or ‘we should do it this way instead’ – many times we stopped and rethought elements of our design or functionality. We scrapped and started elements several times, we future-proofed, we fought with developers to get the right mix of widgets, often creating them specifically. We did not compromise – our viewer had to:
• be based on user demand
• look good
• function flawlessly
• be easy and intuitive to use
• have a high spec toolkit
• provide access to our data providers
• provide metadata for every dataset/map
• be capable of continuous development
• be open data compliant
We are near where we want it to be, but it will never be perfect – we will always strive to improve the system we have developed.
The lesson here is to be thorough, practical, open to change and aware of the bigger picture – play the long game by trying to future-proof where possible so your project is not going to be overtaken by technological advances.
The HeritageMaps.ie project is continuing to teach us many things.
The first thing we learned was that the public appetite for maps is huge – people from all disciplines, all walks of life and all areas of society want access to clean, user-friendly, current and period maps.
The map experience, as we learned, needs to be easily accessible, it needs to be easily digested and, most importantly, it needs to be user-driven. It has to find the exact balance between technical and non-technical. Too many governmental mapviewers worldwide are created by highly-skilled technicians, for professional end users – they leave behind the lesser skilled users. HeritageMaps.ie was designed to allow those with the most modest of computer skills to find, interpret and create maps of all things heritage-related in Ireland. We rely on feedback from users to decide what data to seek, what widgets to develop and what functionality to provide – above all, we work to accommodate our users.