From time to time, as part of my day job, I find myself surfing the web looking for good examples of publicly available web mapping sites. More often than not, I end up looking at sites from someplace else (i.e. other than Victoria or Australia). Perhaps this represents an under reported outcome of globalisation, a case of cultural cringe on my part or an indication of something more? Some of the sites that I have been impressed with lately include:
City of Surrey - British Columbia (http://cosmosbeta.surrey.ca/apps/COSMOSbeta/COSMOS.aspx). Contains great functions (e.g. creating a mailing list), it is data rich (access as-built and legal plans etc) and its super easy to use (even watch a help video on YouTube!)
Creating a mail list to inform my neighbours about the noisy party coming up on Saturday night…
City of Bern in Switzerland (http://map.bern.ch/stadtplan/index_en.htm). So easy to use and hey, I can even find where to drop my recycling off!
Swiss Confederation Geoportal (http://map.geo.admin.ch/).The folks at SwissTopo have been putting out great web mapping applications for years and the geoportal is yet another. It is data rich, easy to use and has some great functions (e.g. calculate the elevation for your weekend mountain bike ride!)
At this stage you might be thinking – “so what, so you like looking at web mapping sites from Canada and Switzerland, big deal” – and perhaps you are right, but the fact remains that when I look at some, web mapping sites from local jurisdictions, I’m sometimes left a bit disappointed and occasionally confused
Is this a cultural cringe on my part? Is it that web mapping sites from some other place seem better just because they are from, well, not here?
Of course, it is obvious that there are examples of woeful web mapping sites all over the world, and equally obvious that there are some excellent Australian sites. However, based on looking at a large numbers of Local Government web mapping sites (mostly Victorian) and various State Government web mapping sites across Australia, I can’t help thinking we could be doing better.
I am not going to name names of course – hey, I have to work in this industry! – so rather than name and shame the odd organisation, perhaps a few general suggestions might be helpful (and less controversial!)
- Usability is key – if your web mapping application has “select an object” as a user interface option, its time for a re-design! Most people in the spatial industry know that users of public web mapping sites are not GIS analysts, but the odd site still contains jargon that most non spatial people would surely struggle with.
- Make sure you have some data that the user community will be interested in (e.g. citizens in your local council). Sure imagery is great, but Google, Bing and various other sites give that to us already. Parcel boundaries are interesting, but…., I am not the expert here, but I think its reasonable to assume that people are often interested in the things that affect their life – e.g. where can I walk my dog off lead, does the park have a BBQ, what day does the street sweeper come through, who do I report that leaking water main to, etc (there are of course state and federal relevant examples as well).
- Give users real tools – provide the users with tools that allow them to “do something” – browsing spatial data in map form is of interest to map nerds like me, but I suspect that many other users get bored of this very quickly. I suspect that many users view web mapping just like lots of other web applications, its about both viewing “and” interacting. Web mapping applications can be great for harvesting information - perhaps users can report something that needs to be fixed (that annoying pothole), measure a distance (which school is closer to walk to) or a profile (my weekend bike ride), make an enquiry (Can I book this facility), the list is, well, endless.
Now for the cynical out there, you are probably thinking, “this is just a plug for organisations to spend money on web mapping application development” – and well, on one level it is (hey, we all have to pay the mortgage!). But really, it’s a general plug for better designed and functional web mapping applications. If your organisation has a web mapping site – cast a critical eye over it. If it is easy to use, contains useful information and provides real services, great. If not, perhaps it’s time to update.
Perhaps even Swiss web mapping users ask Könnten wir besser tun ? (Could we be doing better ?)
After penning the rather rambling article above, I came across this Blog from Brian Timoney - In addition to being a very thought provoking and interesting article, it touches on some common themes. Providing meaningful data – although in the Denver example, they have gone one further and published this useful data as single topic maps – the usage stats are fascinating. In addition, the focus on usability strikes a common theme (0.5% interaction with the “full-screen button”!).
If you haven’t already read Brian’s article, I highly recommend it.
Michael Black is a Senior Consultant at Spatial Vision (and a part time Swiss-o-phile)