What makes a Map App successful?
It sounds so easy and obvious. It's the basic, the 101 of analysis, Input-Analysis-Output. Usually I skip over introductions of books and that's especially true when I know the subject matter like GIS, but for some reason I started reading "The Esri Guide to GIS Analysis, Volume 1" (by Andy Mitchell, Esri Press) and it struck me like lightning, this is exactly what we should be doing:
You start an analysis by figuring out what information you need. This is often in the form of a question. Where were most of the burglaries last month? How much forest in each watershed? Which parcels are within 500 feet of this liquor store? Being as specific as possible about the question you're trying to answer will help you decide how to approach the analysis, which method to use, and how to present the results.
Other factors that influence the analysis are how it will be used and who will use it. You might simply be exploring the data on your own to get a better understanding of how a place developed or how things behave; or you may need to present results to policy makers or the public for discussion, for scientific review, or in a courtroom setting. In the latter cases, your methods need to be more rigorous, and the results more focused.
Frame the Question
Framing the question correctly will tell you:
- The problem you are trying to solve
- The approach of the analysis you want to use
- Which methods to use
- How to present the results
Who & How
Other factors that influence the analysis are:
- Who will use it?
- How will they use it?
- How are the results being used?
All this will impact your design, on what you should focus and how to lay the elements out on the page. Consider:
- Get the user to the location they are interested quickly
- Create clear call to action that allows the user to get answers to his/her question
- Simplify the methods on how to do analysis
- Provide means to use or export the results
Is the glass half-full or half-empty?
I want you to think about this age-old question for a sec (yes, once more).
Ok, here is the point: the answer does NOT show YOU who you are, it shows ME (the person who asks the question) who you are. And I'm not talking about personality, optimist or pessimist, mental state or whatever else. No, in simple terms, it shows me whether you are the bartender or the beer drinker, the producer or the consumer, it depends on the perspective, your answer depends on the role you are in and therefore how I need to interpret it.
It's too easy to interpret interview results or client observations by the pure nature of the answer. What really needs to be looked at is what the role of the person was that answered the question which in many cases might be the real purpose of the question in the first place.
Alternative answers 😉
If you answered that the glass cannot be half-empty because half (1/2) of empty (0) is impossible and doesn't make sense, then you are as much of a freaky scientist as if your answer were full because I didn't specify the type of filling, water (beer) plus oxygen.
What was YOUR response? Don't worry, I'm not going to analyze you... not.
I will tell you MY answer later...
Following I will identify areas that make web-based maps inaccessible as per WCAG 1.0 (please see section: 'Questions and Possible Research Areas').
Shout for Help
Question: How can Internet Mapping Applications be made accessible for users with disabilities?
If you are currently working on resolving any (or all) of these issues, know of somebody that is working on them or even know existing solutions, I would greatly appreciate if you pointed them out to me.
It is absolutely impossible to continue with our current approach to seek exceptions as a 'work-around'!
It is important to note that I'm not talking about simple Google maps like driving directions or locate services that could be described through alternative, textual output.
Many times a map is the means to select, query, mix and eventually analyze data across multiple layers from multiple services. The input requires good vision and motor skills (mouse) and same applies to the output that is highly visual as well.
A simple example that illustrates this fact pretty well is shown in Figure 1, Drive Times from a specific location based on traffic grid.
Section 508 as explained by Authority 29 U.S.C. 794d: “Section 508 requires that when Federal agencies develop, procure, maintain, or use electronic and information technology, Federal employees with disabilities have access to and use of information and data that is comparable to the access and use by Federal employees who are not individuals with disabilities, unless an undue burden would be imposed on the agency. Section 508 also requires that individuals with disabilities, who are members of the public seeking information or services from a Federal agency, have access to and use of information and data that is comparable to that provided to the public who are not individuals with disabilities, unless an undue burden would be imposed on the agency.”
This law is extended and applicable to companies that develop applications for the agency, i.e. ESRI has to adhere to the Section 508 Standards.
The Section 508 Checkpoints were translated into Web Content Accessibility Guidelines which cover most of Section 508 and describe its implementation in terms of HTML & CSS.
So far, exceptions to this law have been granted for the specific case of online maps. It is believed to impose an ‘undue burden’ to the agency/contractor to make maps accessible. In many cases a 1-800 number was provided that would help the user to get the same information.
Questions and Possible Research Areas
Currently the following WCAG checkpoints are Level 1 (A) show-stoppers and need to be solved/researched/implemented:
Checkpoint 1: Provide equivalent alternatives to auditory and visual content
How to read a map when blind? E.g. redundant text for active regions/content.
Checkpoint 2: Don’t rely on color alone
Map application could provide different color schemes/black&white/shades of gray?!
Checkpoint 6: Ensure that pages featuring new technologies transform gracefully
How to provide a map (or alternative) that can be used when scripts are turned off?
Checkpoint 8: Ensure direct accessibility of embedded user interfaces
Do not write event-handlers that rely on mouse-coordinates (device-independence; see also Checkpoint 9)
Checkpoint 9: Design for device-independence
How to navigate a map without a mouse?
Checkpoint 12: Provide context and orientation information
How to describe the content of a map (especially after a change, e.g. query)?
You know of a solution?
Please get in touch with me if you know of solutions to these problems!
I hope that solutions for these problems can be found and maps become available to everyone. As always, not only users with disabilities will benefit from these efforts but also the applications themselves, e.g. better SEO (search engine optimization), alternative support for mobile user agents, assistance for elderly people, etc.