In my last article "Interactive Flash Maps For Enhanced Data Visualization" I had harped on the virtues of using data driven Flash Maps for Data Visualization. If you search the net for Flash Map solution, you'll come across scores of vendors – who put up great demonstrations on their site. Don't fall for those glossy demos, always do a thorough research. After all you don't want to throw money at something that looks good on the surface, but is hollow underneath. In this article I have provided some guidelines that will help you do a proper feature check.
Generally Flash Maps run on XML data, which means that you'll have to configure the chart by creating an XML code in the prescribed format. So, it is a good idea to go through the online product documentation in order to ascertain whether the XML is intuitive and easy to learn. If the vendor provides a GUI for configuring the chart it will be a great convenience. Also ensure that the product provides ample configuration options such as customizable tool tips, back ground color, fill color, fonts, number formatting options etc.
For effective data visualization, it is essential that the product provides a tool for defining criteria for segmenting the data range. This sort of feature can have many implications. Say, you are configuring a population density map, the data range segmentation feature will help you color code the map to indicate regions of sparse, moderate or high population density.
You may want to create custom points on a Flash Map, for instance you may want to create custom points to indicate the location of your company's head office and other branch offices. So, it is important that a Flash Map product facilitates creation of custom markers. It would be advantageous if you could determine the size and shape of each marker – that way you would be able to use a larger and a distinctive marker to distinguish the head office from other branch offices.
If you intend to integrate Flash Maps with a database – it is essential that you buy a product that can work with all conventional scripting languages like ASP, ASP.NET, PHP, ColdFusion etc. Even if the product works well with all types of scripting languages, a problem might arise due to mismatch between XML codes that refer to each region on the map and ids used in your database for the same purpose. This problem can be countered if the Flash Map product provides some mechanism for changing the default region codes.
It is possible that a product may have all the features, but provides very few maps. If so, you'll have a very limited scope for implementing the product. Therefore, buy a product that comes with a wide variety of maps. Once you've zeroed in on a worthy product, make a final check to ensure that it has a NO NONSENSE licensing policy. If you have done your research well, you will have no reasons for regret.