FBSΒΆ

FBS is a Fargo, North Dakota based employee-owned company that creates software and services for the real estate industry, including its flagship product flexmls Web. FBS uses OpenLayers 2 to add value to their web-based product by delivering highly-interactive maps that also provide a rich amount of data.

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When FBS decided to reinvent their mapping platform, all options were on the table. In the end, other popular mapping products proved too inflexible for the needs of the platform. In the real estate industry, there are several required functions for any mapping platform. We needed to be able to display aerials, street maps, parcel maps, flood zones, and more, requiring a library that could work with many different data sources and APIs. Also, FBS needed to be able to display a large amount of data that objects via a JavaScript API couldn’t handle. The ideal solution also had to be flexible enough to allow the building of additional mapping features while allowing the ability to change directions in the future if necessary. OpenLayers 2 met all these requirements.

FBS began their mapping transformation by creating a map tile infrastructure to feed OpenLayers 2. Utilizing MapServer, they were able to generate custom tile caches that display more detailed information like tax parcel boundaries, Multiple Listing Service regions, client-specific area information and more. If FBS clients have geospatial data, it is possible to generate maps to reflect it and OpenLayers 2 will be more than happy to serve them up.

Many of the mapping APIs out there are the equivalent of an interface straightjacket. With OpenLayers 2, there is unparalleled control over the mapping interface, both in appearance and functionality. The FBS map interface has an unique look all its own, instead of appearing to be another “me too” map. In addition, it is possible to extend OpenLayers 2 to provide custom UI tools for the applications as needed.

With their partners at DM Solutions Group, FBS was able to capitalize on existing OpenLayers 2 tools like vector-based drawing, layer management, popups and rulers. With complete control over the tools, FBS can change their behavior and connect them to custom services, which they can roll to our specifications. Combining several of the above client-side tools and our server-side services, FBS created a few of tools that offer killer application-specific features without ever resorting to hacking a closed, obfuscated API. The result is a mapping application that works the way it needs to, instead of being another feature request in the queue of a giant company.

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With the large numbers of properties inside the flexmls Web system, the FBS mapping solution needed to allow clients to see everything in their area, not just the McNuggets. Using some server-side code and MapServer, a custom rendered overlay displaying all the data in an area can be rendered and displayed via OpenLayers 2 quickly and efficiently. Because OpenLayers 2 accepts so many different formats of data, the sky is the limit regarding creative ways to solve big, hairy data issues. This translates to panning and zooming that provide mapping updates quickly, not possible with JavaScript APIs that have to manage all those points of interest on the end-user’s web browser.

Another giant upside to OpenLayers 2 is the flexibility it provides in an uncertain future. Because OpenLayers 2 relies on open protocols, it can be configured to grab mapping data from a variety of sources. In areas of the country where purchasing high quality aerial imagery is out of the question, it is possible to configure OpenLayers 2 to display satellite maps from Google. This provides an economical alternative for customers who have access to imagery only at high costs or live in rural areas where excellent coverage is simply not available. This also aids various international clients where reliable geographic data can be limited. If other mapping providers offer a mapping service that FBS doesn’t have, the nature of OpenLayers 2 allows us to integrate it without having to go back to the drawing board.

For more information contact:

Brandon Medenwald Web Developer, Employee Owner