Usable geographic information – what does it mean to users?
by Christopher J. Parker, Research Associate at Loughborough University on Feb 16, 2010
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How accurate does geographic information (GI) need to be, when compared to the real world, to gain user trust? To better understand the user experience, do we need to consider data structures, formats ...
How accurate does geographic information (GI) need to be, when compared to the real world, to gain user trust? To better understand the user experience, do we need to consider data structures, formats and user
manuals as types of user interface? What caused KML to become a de facto standard, overtaking GML, which
is seemingly well engineered?
These questions concern the usability of GI. While the GIS industry is starting to be aware of the importance
of usability in software and hardware product development, so, too, are some providers of GI. There is,
however a lack of research and methodologies designed for understanding usability of information itself
rather than the interface or system through which it is presented. This is both a huge oversight and
opportunity, when considering that information can sometimes cost 95% of the total project value, or that in
many products the information itself is critical to the user’s experience – for example, in personal navigation
devices (PND). The level of usability of GI combined with system usability can also impact on productivity as
significant time and resources may be spent on their management. In some situations it can even have
safety critical implication – as in the case of a satnav user who followed directions on to a rail track minutes
before a train crashed into her car (BBC®, 2008).
This paper is based on a report from a workshop that was organised by Ordnance Survey to discuss the
usability of GI. It was a first opportunity for researchers from diverse backgrounds, including cartography, GI
science, human factors, ergonomics and human-computer interaction to come together and discuss this
important issue. The outcomes of the workshop, though preliminary, are relevant to any user of GI – and the
issues identified might change the way people in the industry think about and evaluate GI products alongside
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