Web map portals weren’t invented because they were a sensible design decision, they were invented to reduce cost.
Building web maps wasn’t always as straightforward as it is today. In fact, you don’t need a very long memory at all to remember a time when it was normal for web map deployments to cost tens or even in some cases hundreds of thousands of dollars.
With prices like that it’s not surprising that clients wanted to get the maximum bang for their buck by trying to cram as much map data as possible into a single web map deployment.
These map portals—as they were known—were a disaster from a usability perspective. They weren’t trying to tell the story of the data they contained in a unique and focused way that would present the user with focused and productive experience.
In reality they were nothing more than a data dump which left the user the task of wading through the data in an attempt to make sense of it all.
Fast forward to the present day, and we now live in a time where, thanks to the fantastic work of the opensource GIS community and massive advances in cloud computing, we have web map publication platforms that allow anyone with a web browser and some data to put together a web map in a matter of hours.
The cost of web map deployments have dropped to a point where the case for web map portals that revolves around cost saving is no longer valid and now they must die.
Web maps free from the constraints of price and complexity can be super targeted in terms of data, users, scope and length of relevance. In days gone by the idea of making a map that will only be relevant for a few days, or only shared with a handful of people would have been completely unthinkable. Now, it’s a reality and we need to change our behaviour as mapmakers to match that reality.
The map below is the opposite to a map portal. It’s laser focused, and lets the user know immediately what they are looking at and the story that the map wants to tell. Notice that the map doesn’t include anything that doesn’t need to be there. There are no supplemental layers to be toggled on and off, and no tools that don’t make sense in the context of the map.