GIS software allows viewers to access complex geographical data about their community online including maps and satellite images. GIS systems also analyze and display data such as proposed development plans and statistics, and survey data.
Like Google Earth, only localized and more detailed, an increasing number of communities are developing websites with complex geographic data and many of the data viewing and analysis capabilities of GIS software. Residents can go onto a site and view maps, aerial photos, and satellite images of their neighborhoods, but also proposed development plans, crime rate statistics, and ecological survey data.
Community mapping systems are frequently created in response to a particular project, such as a town master planning process, new land acquisition proposals, or educational initiatives. The goal may be simply to educate residents by providing information about the community’s geography. More potent projects also have a goal of involving more people in planning decisions by soliciting feedback on proposals or by engaging them in the place. In most cases, mapping systems are also designed to serve as databases for town geographic data; for small communities without GIS departments or staff, these systems may be the only official repository of data. Though rare, some community mapping systems allow users to input data as well as use it; others are designed with community character uses in mind, in addition to typical administrative and research use.