This week, I’ve taken MAPCITE’s Excel plugin for a quick test drive to see what it can do. I’m not getting any money, endorsements, or other compensation for this, so these are my own thoughts on the product. The software is easy to install and easy to use, and provides valuable added functionality to Excel. There were some limitations and a few stumbling blocks, but overall this is a useful product. Read on for the full report.
MAPCITE’s goal is to make it easy for Excel users to leverage the geographic component of their data. To this end, they have built a plugin that adds a tab with geospatial functions to the Excel Ribbon. They offer a free version and a paid Pro version with extended capabilities. This review covers the free version.
Download and Installation:
You can download the software from the company’s website. MAPCITE requires you to create an account to download the software. A minor hassle, but if they’re giving me free software, the least I can do is give them another user datapoint. The installer downloads and installs any missing dependencies, and the actual plugin installs in a matter of seconds. Now, just start up Excel and MAPCITE will prompt you to activate the installation. If you’ve purchased the Pro version, you can enter your product key now.
To test the geocoding functionality, I used a spreadsheet of several of my previous home addresses. Geocoding is set up through a dialogue window, which is pretty straightforward: just tell it where in the spreadsheet to look for the address, city, state, postal code, and country, then hit the Geocode button.
The geocoder runs through all of your addresses and adds a columns for Latitude, Longitude, and how confident they are of their match. I like having this information, so that I can filter out results that are less than trustworthy. The first time through, the geocoder sprinkled some of my former residences across the South Pacific. Sadly, I have never lived in the South Pacific, so I re-ran the geocoding, and all my addresses were placed correctly. I noticed my internet connection was a bit slow at the time, so I assume that was the problem.
With lat/long coordinates in hand, I proceeded to add data to my map. MAPCITE stores data as datasets, with a limit of 500 datasets per user in the free version. If you have multiple kinds of data in one spreadsheet, you will have to load them as separate datasets. To create your dataset, highlight the entries you want to use and click the Add Data button. The Add Data window is as intuitive as the Geocoding window. You need to give your dataset a name, then specify the lat/long fields. I was disappointed that these did not automatically register my columns titled “Latitude” and “Longitude,” but it’s not a deal breaker. You also have the option to specify a number field, so that the map knows how many customers/dollars/tons of product you have at each location, and a label field, which is disabled in the free version. There are also options for polyline- and poly shape-type features, each with only one line/shape per dataset. However, they would only produce point-type features for me, so this may be a premium feature.
Edit: I’ve emailed the info people at MAPCITE, and they’ve forwarded my question to the development team. I’ll update this post with their response.
The plugin allows you to symbolize your data with a small, but adequate, selection of markers. The free version only supports one symbol per dataset, so if you want graduated or classified symbols, you will have to split your spreadsheet into multiple datasets. This is a bit bothersome, but understandable for freeware. Once you’re all set, hit finish and the map will pop up for you. The default location seems to be the UK for me, but you can save any map extent as the default location. Your data points show up on a serviceable Bing Maps background.
Since your data are displayed on Bing Maps, you have the option to pan around at will, and have the same aerial imagery and birds-eye oblique imagery available. I particularly like the oblique imagery where it is available. The points on the map are linked with the data in the spreadsheet, so if you select a point, its corresponding spreadsheet entry is highlighted. There is also an option to select a group of data points by drawing a polygon. This works well, but it returns the selection in a new spreadsheet called “Polygon Selection.” Don’t be surprised when you clear the polygon and the Polygon Selection spreadsheet sticks around. You can also update the map with any changes to your lat, long, or number fields.
In addition to individual point markers, you can display your data as point clusters or a heat map. The heat maps look pretty good, and there are options for adjusting the size and intensity of your clusters. The heat map will take the number field values into account as well. The Pro version has the option to export your map as a PDF or copy it to the clipboard, but you can easily save your map either through screen capture or by right-clicking on the map and saving as an image.
All in all, this is a very easy-to-use mapping application that lowers the hurdles for an Excel user who just wants their data on a map. There are a couple of other basic features I would like to see, such as direct digitizing, the ability to read coordinates from the map, and zooming to an item selected from the spreadsheet. Also, I would like to know whether polygons and polylines are a paid feature or if there is a trick to making them work. I would say that this plugin falls well short of being a true geographic analysis tool, but if all you need is a visualization, the MAPCITE Excel Addin will get the job done.
Next in this series will be my review of ESRI’s Maps for Office.