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Grantee Blog 2020

Formatting is Key when Developing Interactive Online Mapping Tools

If you’ve ever had to upload a document into a specific program before, you’re probably familiar with the idea that you sometimes have to upload things in a specific format. That may mean changing the font, document size, or file type you’re using, or even all three. This is especially true when formatting data in a way PolicyMap’s computers can “read” to build your customized widget – in our case our interactive, online mapping tool.

To explain this formatting, it helps to have a point of reference. The image below is an example of what we’re aiming to create with our online mapping tool. This example has information on a school in Elizabeth, but our example will have food provider information: provider name, address, phone number, contact person, email address, type of food provider, hours, and requirements.

Now the important things to note here are the bolded categories, information in each category, and tabs. Those are the 3 main factors you’re working with and have to format in a spreadsheet like Excel. If you’re like me, you might think you have to format the spreadsheet to mimic the image: categories in bold on the left most column, information for each category to the right of it, and information for different tabs in different tabs of the spreadsheet.

That is not how it works.

First, the file can’t be saved as any spreadsheet file—it has to specifically be saved as a csv file. Csv files are the super basic version of a spreadsheet that have no special formatting to differentiate all of the information—no bold lettering, shaded cells, special keys, colors, nothing. Then, once your spreadsheet is in the csv file format, you need to have everything organized a specific way so PolicyMap’s computers can read it. And because they read simple formats best, they want all the information, even the information for different tabs, together on one tab.

The result is that each bolded category correlates to a column at the top, not a row on the left. This way all of the food pantry names are in one column, all of the food pantry addresses are in the next column, the phone numbers in the following column, etc. Once you finish all of the categories and information for the first tab (in our case the English translation), in the next columns you have to start including all of the categories and information for the next tab (in our case the Spanish translation). And after all of the info for the second tab is done, in the following columns you then have to start on the third tab (in our case the Haitian Creole translation). So the final result will be a wide document that looks something like this (albeit more categories than in this example), with all of this info in one tab:

Not the easiest thing to work with or understand if you have a lot of categories or tabs in your online mapping tool! But it really drives home that people read and organize things differently than computers do, and that you have to keep both in mind when developing an online mapping tool. I hope this explanation helps you if you ever want/have to create an online mapping tool so you understand what the computer may need to get the job done!

About the Grantee

The Gateway Family YMCA

The Gateway Family YMCA (TGFY) is a community-based organization rooted in Christian principles and committed to building healthy lives through programs that strengthen spirits, minds, and bodies for people of all ages, religions, and cultures. A leader in the Shaping Elizabeth coalition, TGFY is committed towards supporting the health, nutrition, and physical activity of all Elizabeth residents.