Thursday, May 24, 2012

GOV.UK and Maps

Posts have been thin on the ground recently because I've been busy teaching a new course at the Uni.  However, its all over bar the exam marking now so I'm hoping to be more active here.

A friend has been involved in putting together GOV.UK - a site that provides the public with information from the British Government and acts as a clearing house to councils and other public bodies.  I really like the site, one of the key characteristics is that the designers have clearly focussed on user's needs.  I've had a quick whizz around looking for ways maps are, or could be, implemented in the site and a few thoughts spring to mind:

One Map, Many Points:   In the neighborhood section of the map you can enter your postcode and find services around you.  The site delivers you a list of possible local services, in the example below, we're looking at computer training courses:

As you can see, you get an individual map for each location.  It would be much better to provide one map with all the suggested services as markers with a linked list to the left of the screen (much as Google Maps and other services already deliver search results) with your entered post code shown as well.  This would enable the user to see which service is closer or if its close to their work commute route.

A nice add on to this would be travel time estimation circles centered on the entered postcode as found on TFL's 'Why not Walk It' maps.

Map Wiki: I also noticed that the site doesn't link users to useful map wiki or VGI (Volunteered Geographic Information) web sites such as FixMyStreet.  This enables the public to easily alert councils in the UK to problems with public spaces such as fly tipping or potholes because they interface with a map which is much easier than filling in a form.  I suspect that the remit for limits their ability to have done this since they link out to councils sites for this sort of service and councils may or may not have chosen to use a site like FixMyStreet.  

Map as Spine:  The way GOV.UK is organized is centered around search and text based categories.  There's nothing wrong with this structure, I'm sure its what most people want to use.  However, I wonder if a map based structuring would add value as an extra way of organizing the data?  Instead of entering the site wondering how to answer a specific question, maybe people would like to mine the information to make broader decisions such as where in London would I like to move to?  A series of maps based on each area could be very useful showing people how well an area is serviced by the public sector and data from within the site could be used to populate the map.