Fun with Mapbox for ArcGIS-Centric Newbies

Some of you may be wondering, What is Mapbox? Well, come out from under your rock. Mapbox is a tool for designing totally custom maps that also serves as a platform for sharing those maps across the internet. It is used by major websites like Foursquare, Pinterest, NatGeo, and more by the minute. One of the best things about Mapbox is that you can use it absolutely free of cost. Zero. Zilch. Nada. Zamboni. You get the picture.

While there are abundant resources for learning to use Mapbox on the interwebs, ranging from a crash course help doc to YouTube Videos, for an old-school ArcGIS user like myself, the thought of embracing any new-to-me Free and Open-Source Software (FOSS) can be a bit daunting. "Where do I begin?" the die-hard ESRI-user in me wonders....Luckily, there are tutorials designed to help people just like me get past this hurdle.

The ArcGIS to Mapbox tutorial walks you through every step from starting a free account at and downloading Mapbox Studio to sharing your first custom Mapbox on the web. I easily followed the steps in the tutorial to quickly create and customize a map depicting the heights of buildings in downtown San Francisco using canned data. And voila, here's a link to the map.

I found the ArcGIS to Mapbox tutorial to be very user-friendly, though lacking in some regards. One important element it missed was instructions on how to create map layout elements. For instance, a map legend would be nice. Which buildings are the tallest? I could tell you but that would take all the fun out of the game. Okay fine, they are depicted in orange.

And while all the necessary code for designing this map was provided in the tutorial, allowing anyone with the ability to copy and paste text to feel like a codemaster, I think that learning to code with CartoCSS would be worthwhile for anyone wanting to tap into the full potential of Mapbox. That being said, this is pretty nice looking map that I made in virtually no time, equipped with a user interface and its easily shareable across the web. In short, I'm hooked. Next up, I'd like to check out Mapbox Outdoors which is used for modeling terrain, elevation, and more....

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