Friday, February 15, 2013

How not to build map portals

Anyone who tried to build a map based application or mapping portal will appreciate this light-hearted but very informative series of posts from Brian Timoney, titled Why Map Portals Don’t Work. There are 3 articles published so far, out of 5 planned on this topic. I share author’s views to the point but I will not even attempt to summarise the articles here - I could not possibly convey the message as well as Brian did. So, I will only limit the rest of my post to quoting a few gems:

…if you are building any public-facing interface you have exactly four requirements:

                   FAST  •  INTUITIVE  •  INFORMATIVE  •  FAST

Saying “no” to the premise of a single map portal serving both internal users and the general public is the prerequisite to building anything that will meet the four non-negotiable criteria stated above.

Map Portals Over-Focus on the Map, Under-focus on Text-Based Search and Discovery.

…build your simple single-topic maps to address the most common use cases…
single-topic maps get more than 3x the usage of [complex] portals.*

…slapping all of your layers on a single interface to placate the most demanding 3-5% of your audience sabotages the user experience of the vast majority.
* Based on a study undertaken by Brian Timoney of Local Government Maps for Denver

There are myriads of map portals and applications on the web that Brian’s comments directly apply to – some of my early applications as well. But I have learnt the lesson the hard way. If you are serious about saving time and cost, and creating great experience for your users, read the articles! Start your reading with this post that present results of a research “How the Public Actually Uses Local Government Web Maps: Metrics from Denver”. In itself it is quite telling piece of evidence of what works and what doesn’t work for map portals!

Direct links:
Why Map Portals Don’t Work – Part I
Paralysis of Choice: Why Map Portals Don’t Work, Part II
The Tyranny of “Requirements”: Why Map Portals Don’t Work, Part III

1 comment:

Eric said...

I'll check that out. My main project in the last five years has been Mappage, which aims to do a great many things! Although it has been largely for my own purposes rather than for general users.

I think it's possible to have a complex webapp with simple entry points, which to the user are separate apps.