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Codename Farewell or Clone at your Own Peril

Published in Design, Technology

Buran space shuttle/></a>Last week <a href=Aaron and I were discussing how the web facilitates inspiration and sometimes even copying of other sites or applications.

This is a positive outcome of open access that can create evolutionary improvements. However in my experience I have also seen people clone an interface where they missed the larger context of the interaction, or even worse they cloned something that was internally known to be a quick hack or incomplete solution that was delivered to meet a deadline or as the first phase of a multi-phase story that was never completed.

Buran and Enterprise

This reminded me of the fascinating history of the U.S. and Russian space programs. During the space race of the 1970’s and ’80’s the Russians were known to be accessing the unclassified engineering plans for the upcoming Space Shuttle. While this was a necessary, and arguably a greater good to science and industry, the US program did not want the Russians to beat them to the delivery of a reusable launch vehicle.

I proposed using the Farewell material to feed or play back the products sought by [the Soviets], only these would come from our own sources and would have been ‘improved,’ that is designed so that on arrival in the Soviet Union they would appear genuine but would later fail. U.S. intelligence would match Soviet requirements supplied through Vetrov with our version of those items, ones that would not — to say the least — meet the expectations of that vast Soviet apparatus.

From “How the Soviets stole a space shuttle”. And apparently this ploy was successful: “Soviets have ablative material in their elevon gaps, just like we did. We fooled them and now use tiles in the gaps.”

Receiving inspiration, and even copying the aspects, of other applications is clearly an effective means to jumpstart features. However this should not preclude your own diligence in engineering and design to ensure you have appropriately incorporated these concepts for an effective, and operational, means.

Improving the OpenStreetMap Profile Page for more Social Interaction

Published in Design, Maps, OpenStreetMap

A few weeks ago at the OpenStreetMap Hack Weekend that we hosted at the GeoIQ offices a small group of us chose to focus our time revamping the user profile page. Our goal is to improve the engagement of new as well as long-time users. There is a large number of new OSM members that have no, or a single, edit. Through the community the best way to engage users is to locally run parties and collaborate to improve their local areas.

Mikel recently shared his own thoughts and wish list in terms of making OpenStreetMap more social. A public community of 500,000 members should feel pretty vibrant to the world. And there is no shortage of incredible engagement among the numerous mailing lists, wikis, projects, IRC chats, meet ups, conferences, and general social media interactions.

OpenStreetMap | ajturner-1.pngOpenStreetMap | ajturner-1-1.png

Currently, the profile page includes a lack of very much information. Basic information on when I joined, when I accepted the new terms, and an optional description of myself. There is little to no information on my activity, contributions I’ve made over the years, groups I’m work with such as MappingDC, Humanitarian OpenStreetMap. That I have been active in mapping areas in New Zealand, Kenya, UK, and very active and located in Washington, DC. Arguably the page is nearly useless.

When signed in I can see some more information such as all mappers nearby me but the interface is a bit lackluster and not really useful for connecting with people or seeing recent edits I may be interested in seeing and updating.

OpenStreetMap user statistics.pngCompare that with Richard Weait’s project where you can visualize the contributions, types of editors, activity, and more. While the data are arguably merely interesting it at least provides a measure of my engagement that I can be use for my own information and remind me to help out more, or provide others insight into my experience and where I might be able to offer help to others or receive help to become a better mapper.

Goals and Inventory

OpenStreetMap | test-2.png

As a group we derived an overall goals of what the issues are and what might be possible. We posted our “UI Inventory” on the OSM Wiki to share some of our thought process.

A primary goal of the weekend was to really just get my hands into the code, understand the structure and get experience through implementing some new features. The platform is built in Ruby on Rails, so it’s fortunately very familiar to other projects I help develop.

Within two days we made a good first pass development of a new page that cleans up some of the general display, highlighting some of the user’s statistics. More prominently we brought out a “Stream of activities” the member has done such as written an diary (blog) entry, contributed a map edit, or friended someone. These are still a bit preliminary but laid the ground work for bringing forth more activities in order to convey to visitors about the user’s contributions and also for the user themselves to see and reflect on their efforts.

We’re early in this process, primarily sketching out ideas and improving some simple features and issues with the pages. If you would like to share your input, leave a comment or join the mailing list.

Recent excellent map interface examples

Published in Design, Maps, Technology, Web

Various mashups and the ilk have been fast-and-furious in the past year. I’ve played around with my own map-application interfaces, while also appreciating many of the various schemes for UI that have popped up. The following is a short coverage of some of the nice interfaces I’ve come across.

Windows Local Live InterfaceWindows Live Local is the newly rebranded Virtual Earth (think Keyhole->GoogleMaps). It has some nice overlays, the ability to add pushpins with annotations, tours, and ooh, right-click support.

Wayfaring interfaceWayfaring is a Ruby/Rails web application utilizing GoogleMaps. It’s got a very nice layout with map, set of links along the right-hand side, comments below, and the ability to handle tracks.

Hunting Legacy Online InterfaceHunting Legacy Online, despite its unlikeable (to me) subject matter, looks like a really nice interface for creating map annotations, layers, etc. The purpose is to tell a history of your hunting trips. However, the same premise could be used for geneology, family trips, photographic shoots, etc.

Maps for MapserverMaps for Mapserver is a very slick interface for mapserver, which is typically static. It doesn’t have many bells and whistles, but is a great demonstration that you don’t need to be locked into one of the “Big Three” (of online maps) in order to have a nice mapping interface. They use MapTools to perform the GIS magic.

Waymarking interfaceWaymarking is using static Tiger maps currently, but i’m a fan of their sidebars and isometric icon graphics.

Beauty of simple design

Published in Design

Moma World ClockI find this MoMA World Clock simply brilliant in design and effectiveness. Perhaps it’s my many years of engineering education (heh – it’s more like my many more years of video game playing), but looking at this one clock I can easily read the time in other cities by quickly performing the rotation to align the “12-o’clock” appropriately.

While their Barrel Clock is neat too, the names of the side of the barrel make the single look, lots of info paradigm not work.

(via RedFerret Journal)