Friday, January 13, 2012

Will Zooming Break the Map?

My PhD student Craig has been testing university undergrads on interactive web maps.  His results have revealed the fact that:

  • Despite being set tasks that require users to zoom in to search effectively, some users don't use the zoom control
  • One user commented that s/he didn't want to zoom in as s/he might 'break the map' and 'not be able to get back'
Digital Natives? What is most interesting about this result is that these are undergrads, supposedly the 'digital natives' we hear so much about.  The fact that some of them can't use basic map controls means we need to think hard about web map design when our audience will include people with generally low IT skills.  A static, non-zoomable map may be the solution to go for even if it is less elegant as a solution.

Web Browsing Skills:  Will this issue continue in the future?  There's a useful analogy in the development of user skills in operating web browsers: I remember teaching introductory ICT to mature students in 2000, lack of understanding about browser features such as back buttons and URLs was common at the time.  That general lack of understanding has now disappeared because most people use browsers regularly.  Use of web maps has been common since around 2005 but their use is (of course) less common than browsers so I wouldn't be surprised if basic skills associated with web maps were taking longer to spread through the population than web browser skills took.

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