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Improving the perfomance of commercial mapping on the web : proposals for the web site of the French Forest Authority

Vincent Godard
Cet article est une traduction de :
Pour une amélioration de l'utilisation commerciale de la carte sur le web : proposition pour le site de l'office français des forêts

Résumé

In 1999 the Internet was used for the first time as a marketing medium by the ONF (France’s National Forest Office) to sell timber from state- and locally-owned forests. Using a search engine, this site enables visitors to locate items corresponding to their requests (species, available volume,...). The only map proposed by the ONF is a document indicating roughly the felling location. It seemed appropriate to suggest the addition of an atlas allowing sellers to increase the visibility of the products on sale and visitors to rationalize their purchases. Is the result more efficient? A questionnaire is provided for Cybergeo readers.
Keywords: geomatics, Internet, wood sale, applied cartography, ONF

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Texte intégral

I would like to thank Laurent VALIERGUE (ONF) for his time and information.

Foreword

11999 was the first year in which Internet was used as a marketing channel for the ONF (National Forest Office) to sell wood from public, state, and communal forests. Using a search engine, this site enables visitors to locate articles matching their requests (variety, available volume,...). The only map proposed by the ONF is a document indicating roughly the felling location. It seemed appropriate to suggest the addition of an atlas allowing the seller to enhance the visibility of the products for sale and the visitor to rationalize his purchases. Is the result more efficient?  A questionnaire is made available to Cybergeo readers.

Aims

2How can information about timber sales be diffused more widely and given greater transparency? Provision of a paper catalogue might appear adequate as long as sales of timber trees from state-owned or other forests involved purchasers located on the periphery of the forest area. But if a larger and/or more distant clientele is being sought (because the local market has become saturated, for example), other means of dissemination become necessary. This was the case notably after the storms of December 1999.

3As a demonstration of its capacity to innovate, the ONF embarked on development of a Web site devoted to two timber sales held during summer 1999. The Regional Directions of Burgundy and Picardy provided internet subscribers access to the catalogues of timber sales for forests in the Yonne and Aisne départements, on the ONF site (http://www.onf.fr/​vente_bois/​). It seems, however, that this experiment is currently suspended (September 2000). No new sale has appeared at this web address and the 1999 sales for the Aisne have actually been removed from the site.

4Qualified as experimental (ROUZINEAU, 1999), this “virtual” catalogue, in addition to reproducing in full the traditional paper catalogue, also included a search engine with which potential purchasers could select by species, volumes, and quantities, plus a summary cartography of the location of the lots to be sold. After the sale (17 September 1999 at Auxerre and 27 September 1999 at Laon), the site was completed with the results of the sales, the names of purchasers and the price of the lots.

5The aim of the ONF was to provide a search engine with which a relational database could be consulted at a distance by as many people as possible. Using the search engine, purchasers would be able to select via the Internet the lots that matched their needs. However, the contribution of viewing on screen was largely under-used. The experiment did not exploit the discriminatory power of cartography and thereby lost much of its effectiveness. The maps on the ONF site are merely small-scale maps giving the location of the lots and must be hard to use on the ground (and one wonders if the ineffectiveness of this first attempt was the reason for not continuing with the experiment).

6As a way of relaunching this experiment, we suggested reinforcing the original instrument by the addition of a series of maps. Purchasers whose requests have been answered and who have located the lot(s) corresponding to what they are looking for, may seek to make their journey to the place of sale worthwhile by satisfying their other orders (or their own wants) at the same occasion. In these conditions it is advantageous to use a synthetic tool (cartography) to show them timber lots less narrowly identified than their originally expressed needs, namely by means of summary maps presenting the other items in the sale (species, volume, location, etc.) they are going to attend.

7Our approach complements that of the ONF in that we have chosen a cartographical representation with which the potential purchaser has to decide by analysis of various maps for which tree species is the route of entry.

Method

8Our first step was to select the species for which it was possible to produce a cartographic representation. At the level of individual woodlands the exercise is meaningful only if the items to be sold are sufficiently numerous. This consideration will need to be taken into account in any future operation. In the sectors of small wooded surfaces the number of lots up for sale in any single forest is never large enough for the cartography to be meaningful (shortage of lots). It will clearly be worthwhile making maps by forming larger groups according to theme and place of sale (the coniferous species and birch trees of a particular forestry management division, for example).

Figure 1. Sale of timber trees – Localization of items

Figure 1. Sale of timber trees – Localization of items

9With only 39 items for sale in 1998 and 25 in 1999 (see Figure 1), only the species that are the most represented in the wooded zone can be mapped. Maps could not therefore be made for poplars or conifers, for which only one or two items were present. On the other hand, when it was possible in thematic terms, we combined species under generic headings, as in the case of “valuable deciduous” which brings together on a single map the sycamore, wild cherry, and chestnut species (see Figure 2).

10The case of deciduous softwoods and hardwoods is somewhat different in that these are existing catalogue headings (see Table 1), which combine what the forester thinks cannot be marketed under its own name. We have simply redistributed some species that are weakly represented (designated for felling) to these two categories. They are constituted essentially of alder, birch, lime and “other deciduous”, for the deciduous softwoods, and hornbeam, elm and false acacia for the deciduous hardwoods.

Figure 2. Sale of valuable deciduous timber trees (wild cherry, sycamore and chestnut)

Figure 2. Sale of valuable deciduous timber trees (wild cherry, sycamore and chestnut)

To have access to the reactive map, click here!

Table 1. Example of a page from a timber sale catalogue

Table 1. Example of a page from a timber sale catalogue

To have access to the reactive table, click here!

11Besides the hardwood deciduous, softwood deciduous and valuable deciduous already mentioned, the leading categories, at least as regards the number of items for the wooded zone, are very clearly, for 1999, oak (see Figure 3) and ash to equal degrees, with 24 items each, followed by beech, with 22 items. Six maps were thus used, both for 1998 and for 1999. In a subsequent season, however, some species might appear individually on the maps, while others might disappear or be grouped with other species.

Figure 3. Sales of oak timber trees for felling

Figure 3. Sales of oak timber trees for felling

To have access to the reactive map, click here!

12It was decided to represent two variables per species and hence per map. The first is the volume in cubic metres of the species in question per item, and the second is the volume of the average tree, that is to say, the ratio of volume to number of trunks of the species in question. The volume is indicated in the conventional way by proportional black circles, while the volume of the average tree is given, equally conventionally, by a rising scale of values in a different colour for each species.

13The distribution between the categories was done by “equal frequency”, that is to say by classes containing equal numbers of observations. However, the class boundaries were adapted to make them compatible with those of the ONF search engine which used “rounded” steps such as 0.5, 0.75, 1, 2 m3, etc. per trunk.

14The maps and catalogue descriptions of the items were put on line in the mid-July before the sale of 28 September 1999, which is also when the paper catalogue was sent out to the “usual” buyers. All the web pages relative to this experiment were placed on the server of Université de Paris 8 (http://margaux.ipt.univ-paris8.fr/​vgodard/​recherch/​framrech.htm). A questionnaire about the site is appended (Annex 1).

Results and discussion

15Evaluation of the experiment in either qualitative or quantitative terms is difficult. To our knowledge, the ONF has not attempted any evaluation, and in addition no summary article has been published on the subject. At our initiative, a questionnaire asking about the value of the exercise was sent out with the catalogues for the sales. However, whether because of distrust or lack of interest, to date not a single one has been returned! The only information in our possession concerns the number of connections to the ONF website. The ONF recorded between 500 and 900 connections depending on the source (PICARDEAU, 1999; MAUERHAN, 1999). However, it is impossible to know the shares of connections made by ONF staff or “affiliates”, and by potential purchases, thus limiting the qualitative value of this information. For our part, we did not install a connection counter.

16The only feedback we have had, piecemeal in character, has concerned the wishes of purchasers with internet access to be able to download maps showing the location of lots on a scale that would be suitable for use on the ground. At present they obtain from ONF agents photocopied sheets of the IGN base map to which is added an overlay of the forestry zones.

17Would it not be possible to supply more information via Internet? The first point concerns the cartography made available. This is traditional in design and its relevance and suitability for viewing on screen is uncertain. Included with this article is a new questionnaire that will allow me to know your views as Internet users. Moreover, in future it may be necessary to consider supplying new information over and above that contained just in the sale catalogue, concerning for example the operational difficulties (felling and loading) which should be made a priority for mapping, for the benefit of purchasers unfamiliar with the site. The quality of a timber lot has to be considered in conjunction with its accessibility for felling (distance from a loading area), declivity, drying time (derived from the soil type map), etc. All such parameters are already included to varying degrees in the Geographical Information Systems of the ONF and other research agencies. This type of information is already known to the local clientele, but is a deciding factor if one wishes to attract purchasers from further way.

18Lastly, it is also possible to envisage progressing from a static cartography, of the kind presented above, to a dynamic cartography, whereby visitors, the potential purchasers, could directly access the spatially referenced data base and generate their own maps to match their requests. Most software publishers already offer capabilities for accessing data via the Web. Uncertain, however, is whether potential purchasers would be prepared to do the work of map making or if the seller (the ONF?) would have to make the maps for them.

Conclusion

19Provision of a search engine on the Web (that of the ONF in the present case) to locate timber lots for sale, is symptomatic of a change in the timber-producing industry. In the absence of online auctions (for which there are no plans at present), buyers must attend a sales room in order to bid. To favour their attendance, in addition to the search engine, a series of maps summarizing the information about the lots and made available online is an advantage. It allows the seller, in what can be described as a marketing approach, to inform purchasers about items that are equivalent or complementary to those they are looking for. This is a very general offer that the search engine, too specific in its requests, cannot satisfy.

20Although no evaluation has been conducted of the online maps regarding timber sales in the forests of Saint-Gobain and Coucy-Basse (Aisne, France), it seems that the response has been favourable and that the undertaking needs to be continued. It even appears that it would also be useful to provide a map of the forest parcels suitable for use when visiting the lots. In a more prospective view, all the woodlands should be mapped to show information on operating constraints, such as those of topography, cleaning times, etc. (HACHEM, 2000).

21To conclude, although it is planned to repeat this experiment, for the moment, no date been fixed. The difficulties in timber sales consequent on the extra “production” generated by the hurricane of December 1999 perhaps represent an opportunity to increase the use of Internet to publicize the lots on sale. This would contribute to making information more transparent and to reaching more distant purchasers, and thereby probably lead to a faster turnover of stocks.

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Bibliographie

Hachem, S. 2000, Détermination de l’accessibilité du parcellaire forestier à l’aide d’un SIG, Saint-Denis, Université de Paris 8, Mémoire de maîtrise, 101 p.

Mauerhan, F. 1999. “Vente de bois informatisée. L’ONF joue la transparence”, Journal du Dimanche, 31 October 1999.

Picardeau, Ch. 1999. “Sylviculture. L’Office national des forêts vend avec Internet”, L’Yonne républicaine, 18-19 September 1999.

Rouzineau, P.-E. 1999. “Ventes de bois : le catalogue sure Internet”, Info ONF, 7, July-August 1999, p.2.

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Table des illustrations

Titre Figure 1. Sale of timber trees – Localization of items
URL http://journals.openedition.org/cybergeo/docannexe/image/40915/img-1.jpg
Fichier image/jpeg, 64k
Titre Figure 2. Sale of valuable deciduous timber trees (wild cherry, sycamore and chestnut)
Légende To have access to the reactive map, click here!
URL http://journals.openedition.org/cybergeo/docannexe/image/40915/img-2.jpg
Fichier image/jpeg, 72k
Titre Table 1. Example of a page from a timber sale catalogue
Légende To have access to the reactive table, click here!
URL http://journals.openedition.org/cybergeo/docannexe/image/40915/img-3.png
Fichier image/png, 161k
Titre Figure 3. Sales of oak timber trees for felling
Légende To have access to the reactive map, click here!
URL http://journals.openedition.org/cybergeo/docannexe/image/40915/img-4.jpg
Fichier image/jpeg, 69k
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Pour citer cet article

Référence électronique

Vincent Godard, « Improving the perfomance of commercial mapping on the web : proposals for the web site of the French Forest Authority », Cybergeo: European Journal of Geography [En ligne], Cartographie, Imagerie, SIG, document 183, mis en ligne le 21 décembre 2000, consulté le 15 avril 2024. URL : http://journals.openedition.org/cybergeo/40915 ; DOI : https://doi.org/10.4000/cybergeo.40915

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Auteur

Vincent Godard

Centre de Biogéographie-Écologie, CNRS-ENS de Fontenay-St-Cloud, France
vgodard@univ-paris8.fr
http://www.ipt.univ-paris8.fr/vgodard/

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