I went to the #EsriUC and All I Learned Was Not to Trust Esri Products. Again.

Okay, I know. Old news, right? Those of us who have been using Esri Software to build real-world solutions to managing spatial data know there is always SOMETHING that requires a work-around. I really like the idea of what Esri does, but I must spend 10-15% of my time trying to implement products and features that should have NEVER been released. Not because the idea behind them is bad, but because the execution is flawed. And, the worst thing? They know they are doing it!

Case in point:

For the last 8 years, I have been trying to manage a rolling street  tree survey of the some 30k street trees in The City of New Haven using various Esri Products. I use this system as an introduction to field data collection for the 150 incoming Forestry Students we get in the Graduate program, every year. But more often than not, what they learn is how frustrating, finicky and fruitless these platforms can be.

First, ArcPad.

Again, the idea of ArcPad is great. And, it works just fine in the UC Demos when they are using a dataset with 30 points, rather than 30k. But, in the real world, we don’t have datasets with 30 features. Hell, just the bike rack dataset for the university I work for has 300+ features. SO for eight years, I’ve been breaking ArcPad. I’ve developed something of a reputation with the ArcPad Developers Team, too. Because when it doesn’t work the way THEY SAY it’s supposed to work, I call bullshit and I call it loud. I’ve struggled the entire time to implement a system that provided us what any real-world infrastructure inventory system needs: Disconnected Editing, Relational Data, Flexibility, etc…

We’ve been through lots with this platform, too. Finally, at about version 8, when the ArcPad Server Extension was released, we sort of got a solution. And, as ugly as it turned out to be, we actually got a way to edit relation databases in the field. But Esri can’t leave well enough alone, and discontinued the ArcPad Server extension, BEFORE their plans to integrate feature service sync were even ready to release. Finally, at 10.2, they release Feature Service Sync in ArcPad. And, as always, I spent months trying to get it to work. Dozens of hours on Esri Support chatting and speaking with tier 1 wastes of my time, and getting nowhere. Finally, the EsriUC is here, and I get to sit down with some of the ArcPad Team to troubleshoot this thing.

First, I’m told

“Oh, you can’t use it on 30K records.”

“Well why the hell not and where does it say that? It’s not a hardware issue, anymore, so what is your excuse?”

At any rate, we arrive at a workaround to sideload the data into ArcPad on a machine and use the “Incremental Download” Feature, documented here, so ArcPad won’t be overwhelmed with my real data. Testing in front of the ArcPad Team Member, she was at a loss about why it wouldn’t work. We investigate my platform, everything is at 10.2.2 (Except ArcPad, which is always at least a version behind), etc… and should be working. SO, I escalate the issue by walking over to the Esri Mobile Team Tech Lead and ask about it.

“That feature isn’t imlemented, yet”

“Wait, WTF are you talking about, It’s documented right here?” (I show her on my laptop).

“Oh, that shouldn’t be there. That doesn’t work.”

At this point, I’m seething, but I’m keeping it together, because, well, I don’t know why since they haven’t ever earned it.

Fine, so my next visit is to the Geodatabase Team to see how I can workaround the fact that I can’t do disconnected editing in Collector for ArcGIS with versioned data.

“Do you need versioned data?”

“Well, I do to use archiving, so I can see what my trees were, and not just what they ARE.”

“No, we discontinued that at sub-version blah blah.” (This is how you have to learn about these things that change the way you do things, since there is no way for one human to be comprehensively knowledgeable about the entire platform. Believe me, I try).

“Beautiful! That solves my problem! Thanks”

So, I can just ditch ArcPad altogether now, and despite making about $5000 worth of Windows Tablets useless, moving forward, I have a solution.

Except. It’s Esri and it’s never that simple. That’s when I got the email from another tree survey project I consulted on, recently.

I spent the afternoon working with a group of Nature Conservancy interns last week. I was really stoked about the new offline editing capabilities in the Collector for ArcGIS, and the ease of setup when paired with an ArcGIS Online for Orgs account! From brainstorming the schema, to creating the geodatabase to pushing it to AGO and customizing the data collection forms in our WebMap, to testing it outside and syncing to the Hosted Feature Service, it took us about 3.5 hours. Some of you know how amazing that is.

But then, The Collector for ArcGIS Team pushed an update and everything went haywire. The app did nothing but crash, and five people sat on their hands for a week because their survey system simply would not work.

I suggested uninstalling, reinstalling and redownloading the app and data, which they did, numerous times. None of it worked. Finally, I get an email with the Subject: Tablet Horrors. Basically, they are looking at Fulcrumapp, the system they looked at initially, and which I suggested wouldn’t integrate as well with their existing workflows (they, like so many large Orgs are an Esri shop). I responded, “I’m going to check with the Devs, here, and see what is up. What they suggest.”

I made the last “Collector for ArcGIS Introduction” session at the EsriUC and waylaid the Devs to ask their advice.  I explained the issues and they stopped me halfway through…

“You’re using a new Nexus 7, aren’t you?”

“Yeah, of course. It’s the best Android Device out there. Why?”

“Yeah, last weeks update introduced a bug that broke Syncing on WiFi on the Nexus 7. We have a fix, but with the UC we’ll be too busy to release it until next week.”

“Can I get a copy of the APK? I’ve got a crew of 5 interns sitting on their hands for the last week because of this, learning nothing but not to trust your software.”

They looked at me like I had two heads and basically repeated that it would be out next week. So, in a nice way, “fuck off.”

Now, I used to run my own business, and if my people had knowingly done something that effected my customers, nobody would have been going to any fucking parties until it was made right. Further, when I spec a system based upon the FLAGSHIP DEVICE OF THE ANDROID OPERATING SYSTEM, I should be confident that it has AT LEAST been tested on those devices. I do a pretty damned good job of making myself look like an asshole, I don’t need Esri’s help.

So, that’s two survey solutions, stopped dead, within 2 hours of one another. Why? Because you can’t trust Esri software. I knew this going in, though. Hell, I’ve developed a repetitive stress injury from crossing my fingers for years when using Esri software.

I forwarded the series of frantic emails between myself and the Nature Conservancy to the Esri Mobile Team Tech Lead with the comment “#JESUSFUCKINGCHRISTWILLITEVEREND?”

I wish I could invoice Esri for all the time I’ve wasted on this shit.

I’m still waiting for a response.

And, that Collector update too.