9 Tips for Mapping Websites

Simple and useful London Underground A to B

I wrote this article back in 2009 but most of it still stands. Add in the need to support and DESIGN FOR mobile and tablets.

If you are bringing your  GIS out of the back office and onto the web or intranet, think about your non-specialist audience.  No matter how useful your site is, if you confuse visitors or it is painfully slow, they will give up and all your hard work will be wasted.

User friendly websites don’t have to be flashy with fancy bells and whistles, just easy to find your way around.

Tips for Mapping Websites is a work in progress. Please send me yours, or your favourite mapping website.

Monitor who is visiting and whether they are coming back

#1 Test your website in all browsers including Chrome which is gaining popularity. Just a little over 50% of visitors are now using IE.  I have visited a few mapping sites recently that just hang in Chrome.

#2 Avoid acronyms or explain them. Use plain english. A user is more likely to understand the word ‘layer; than ‘theme’

#3 Be careful with layers. The average punter won’t know to switch them on.  Rather than giving them,  limit the choices. You can always add more when your users get more savvy (and especially if they start asking you for it).  This Webmaps article explores presentation and performance

#4 Make it useful. It doesn’t matter how good the data is, people need to need it.  This is a great example for the London Tube

#5 Encourage feedback. Make it very easy and obvious how to get in touch with you. AND RESPOND!! This means assigning ongoing resources and budgets for support.

Report broken things to your council

#6 Monitor who is using it. What are they looking at? Are they coming back? How often? What are the trends? More in Webstats article

#7 Read this article before you write an article about your new mapping website
Ten Suggestions for Those Who Write About Local GIS Implementations by Adena SchutzbergDirections Magazine

#8 Test performance. Visitors expect fast response these days yet they don’t all have ultra-fast broadband.  Consider hosting it in the cloud (such as on amazon.com) for scalability if demand takes off.

#9 Check out Mashup Competition entrants  for slick, user friendly design

My favourites from the Victorian appmystate comp

Also the  MashupAustralia Competition entries which are combining Public Sector data from www.data.australia.gov.au (now defunct)  in creative, intuitive and useful ways.  Most are using Google maps and APIs but some are using Openstreetmaps. Lots of Open source stuff which is very exciting.

One of my favourites was it’s buggered mate to “tell your local council what is buggered in your neighbourhood. Find your location on the map, then scribble on it, and leave notes about what is wrong”. A great idea that could be extended to utilities or any other infrastructure owner. There is now a production version called neatstreets