Living Atlas or Open Data – which should I choose?

14th April 2016

Over the past couple of months there has been a number of updates to Living Atlas and to the ArcGIS Open Data application. Both Living Atlas and the Open Data application host a range of authoritative datasets such as Census data, OS boundary data and other government driven datasets. In this post I will first look at the similarities between the two applications when contributing data. I will then focus on which one you might want to choose when downloading the data.

Contributing data in Living Atlas and ArcGIS Open Data:

Any named user within the ArcGIS platform can make data openly available, but the way that the data is contributed and accessed is different in the Living Atlas and via the Open Data portal. When it comes to Living Atlas, anyone can suggest a dataset that has the potential to be re-used or re-purposed. However, the data request must be moderated by an Esri UK member of staff and score a minimum of 80/100 for the item’s metadata, before it’s made available in Living Atlas. Once the data is available, it can then be added directly into a web map.

This approach is very different to ArcGIS Open Data because it does not use a scoring system to assess the quality of the item’s metadata. Instead, the onus is on the individual or the organisation that’s contributing the data to review the metadata and make sure that it’s fit for purpose. Take a look at the table below for a comparison, note that an item can be in both areas.

Living Atlas

ArcGIS Open Data

Item stored in ArcGIS Online

Item stored in ArcGIS Online

Composite layers, web maps and apps

Item split into individual layers

Use, view and save items in ArcGIS Online

Use, view and save items in ArcGIS Online or download in a variety of formats

Can be used in analysis in the ArcGIS platform

Can be used in analysis in the ArcGIS platform

Items are nominated individually

Items are added directly through groups

Items are moderated and accepted by an Esri curator

Only members of the organisation can make items public

Public data

Public data

Free and premium content

Free content only

Item descriptions, thumbnails and tags undergo a strict review

Item descriptions, thumbnails and tags are encouraged but not required

Items can be accessed through the Living Atlas app, ArcGIS Online gallery or via the Map Viewer

Items can be accessed through Open Data portals, Esri Inc’s Open Data site or via the map viewer

The search functionality in ArcGIS Online does not differentiate between Open Data and Living Atlas content.

The search will return any public items

Searching only shows composite layers

Tile packages
can be used and consumed

Tile packages are not a supported format in ArcGIS Open Data

So when should you choose to use Living Atlas and ArcGIS Open Data when downloading data?

Scenario 1: You’re carrying out a global study using ArcGIS and would like to access authoritative data.

Your first point of call should be Living Atlas as it contains a collection of authoritative, ready-to-use global geographic information. The catalogue is comprised of imagery, basemaps, historical maps, demographics, landscape, oceans, earth observations, urban systems, transportation and boundary data. All of which can be easily incorporated into your web map in ArcGIS Online with the click of a button.

Scenario 2: You’re creating a case study about the UK and want to enrich your point dataset with additional demographic information in the web map.

Demographic data can be sourced from either Living Atlas or Open DataOnline, as a considerable amount of census information has been published in both repositories. The data from Living Atlas has already been pre-processed for you, so there’s no need to reformat it. If you can’t find your desired dataset here then it’s worth taking a look at the Michael Bauer datasets available through the Enrichment Tool in ArcGIS Online.

Scenario 3: You’re trying to locate a supermarket store in the UK and require access to boundary data and location information for the existing supermarket stores.

Suitable boundary data like OS Boundary-Line or the 2011 Census boundaries can be sourced from either Living Atlas or ArcGIS Open Data. These are both ideal datasets because they can be used for further analysis in either ArcGIS Online or ArcGIS for Desktop. Some niche datasets like the supermarket locations can be found in ArcGIS Open Data. If you source any of the data from ArcGIS Open data then you have the capability to download a subset of dataset instead of the full load.

Scenario 4: You’d like to access and use Open Data in your third party software.

In this scenario, the best solution would be to use the ArcGIS Open Data, as customers can discover, view and download datasets in variety of different formats including spreadsheet, KML, shapefile, OGC WMS, OGC WFS, GeoJSON and via the GeoServices API. As the datasets are exposed in a variety of formats, it should be fairly simple to import the data into your software.

Interested in more examples?

The following story maps were created using a combination of Living Atlas and ArcGIS Open Data:

·        Stop and search story map

·        UK Census 2011

Any questions?

If you have any questions, you can get in touch by e-mailing