FlickrMaps a failure?

FlickrMaps
It’s been interesting to see the mixed reaction that FlickrMaps has received since it’s recent launch. After all, it’s such a cool idea, to be able to show on a map where you took your photo, and see what the rest of the world looks like through other people’s eyes. It’s like Google Earth with a few hundred thousand personalities. Beautiful.
Oh and, of course, it’s a mashup, so it must be cool!
This is what Flickr told us to expect from FlickrMaps:
FlickrMaps
See, there’s your local park, and that’s about where the statue is that’s in your photo. Drag your photo there. Very cool.
Here’s what it’s like in London.
London on FlickrMaps
Yes, you know London, in the UK. That city with a population of population 7.3 million, inhabiting an area of 174 sq km. Here’s the map that Flickr/Yahoo give me to position my photos on. Forget about the park, I can’t even find my suburb.
And, as you can imagine, it’s not much more fun in Sydney.
Sydney Map on Flickr
Yes, at a stretch, there are satellite maps that you can use in these locations that give you more granularity… but nowhere near the precision of streetmaps. And not what Flickr promised.How have the people of London responded?
London FlickrMaps photos

Pretty underwhelming really, isn’t it.

There is more to this than just the US-Centric product focus. There are also some pretty significant (in my opinion) flaws with the way that the Map service has been designed.

Let me start by saying that once you *find* the map section, then adding your photos to the map (assuming there is a decent map of the where you took your photo) is a real pleasure.

But here’s the problem – when are you *most* likely to add locations to your image?

I’d hazard a guess (and it is only a guess, perhaps Flickr have user research to show differently), but I’d guess that it would be at the point that you’re uploading your photos. I don’t know about you, but that’s pretty much the only time that I add things like tags to my photos. And it’s when I’m uploading a bunch of photos that I might think about putting them into a set.

(Again, this is dangerous business, looking at your own behaviour and theorising that everyone else’s behaviour is the same… so I’d be interested to hear how/when you add tags or make sets… and at what points you think you’d add geotagging to your photos).

Alas, while you’re uploading your photos, and even once you’ve uploaded them, there’s no hint of the map.

When I went to explore FlickrMaps this morning, I literally felt as though I was hunting for them. Where was the first place that I went? Well, to the detail page of one of my photos, of course. I was sure I’d find a call to action asking me to put my un-mapped photo on the map. Nope.

Eventually I got to – ‘oooh, the organiser’. Perhaps it’s there.
And there it was.

So, I find the Maps either because I’m hunting for it, or because I happen upon it. This means that I’m unlikely to geo-tag very many photos.

And, as demonstrated by the map of London and number of uploads, it seems that not so many people *are* geo-tagging their photos.

BUT – things may not be as they seem. Did you notice that strange paging device on the map? This one:

Map Pages

Do you get it? I sure don’t. Maps and pages… what is this? An atlas? (See it in context in the image at the top of this post)

After playing with it a while I learned that if I clicked on the arrows to the left or right I got to see the map refresh and show me different numbers of photos uploaded in different locations. Apparently this is a page.

Now, am I just being thick, or does the concept of ‘pages’ just make no sense at all on a map like this? I don’t know about you, I’m basing my expectations on the other Yahoo and Google Map mashups with all the masses of pins poking out all over the place. And no pages.

I can’t even begin to get my head around what a page might mean in this context… what goes on one page and not another? And playing with the pages didn’t clear things up for me either.

I can’t think that these pages are helping the situation any though, because according to this widget there are 3.5 million images that have been geo-tagged. That’s a pretty impressive number.

Go play with the map though, and tell me where all these images are… I sure can’t find anywhere near that many. I’ve played around with England, NSW (Australia) and East Coast USA and I don’t reckon I’ve seen more than three thousand photos on the map (and that’s erring on the generous side).

So, has FlickrMaps been a failure so far? Well, if you define success by uptake, then I’d say the jury is out.
If there have been 3.5 million photos geo-tagged in the last couple of weeks, then you’d be a hard judge to call that a failure.
But, if that is the case… then I’ve never seen something successful look so much like a failure.
Come on Flickr. Don’t be hiding your light under a bushel.
Let’s see those 3.5 million geo-tagged photos and where they’re at. Let’s see the FlickrMap phenomenon come to life. And let’s get more people geo-tagging by thinking about how we can seduce them into geo-tagging at the moments when they’re most likely to participate.
Oh, and to everyone in ‘the Valley’. Please don’t forget about us, your loyal customers, from *all over the world*!
Update: Dave (Heller) Malouf has an interesting post with his evaluation of  FlickrMaps here. Check it out.

ethnography is everywhere

Man on Tube with Time Out

Customer research too expensive? Unless you’re working for an university with stringent ethical requirements to meet – you’re making your job too hard. Ethnography* is everywhere.

Last night, after Girly Geeks, I was on the tube on the way home and beside me sat a man performing a task that I *wish* I could have designed for user testing… except I would never have thought of it. Oh, and I don’t have budget.

I watched him a while. Then I asked him if I could take a photo of what he was doing, and explained why I was interested.

Unfortunately we got to Oxford Circus and I had to get off the tube, otherwise I would probably still be in conversation with this guy about why he sits on the tube at 10.30pm on Tuesday evening circling TV listings in TimeOut.

Once he started talking, he had a big story to tell and a rationale for why he was doing this. Of course, it was all premised on the idea that he was ‘killing time’, but then he got into detailed explanations about the way that his personal video recorder worked and how many programs he could record or watch at the same time, and how he treated programs that he knew he like, to those he was still testing out, to those that were ‘experimental’ (his words).

Research is brilliant at helping us work out what the design problems are and how we might try to solve them. But not all projects have the budget or resources for a formal user research phase. Don’t let that put you off.

Ask the people you work with. Ask the people you live with. Ask people you know to ask people they know. Try to get some of their time and ask them some questions. You’ll be amazed how many are willing to help out for free.

People care about design – even if they don’t know it. And they love to be involved and to make a difference. And they have lots of stories to tell and they love that you’re interested in hearing them, and that you think those stories are important.

And, of course, they are important. And they’re everywhere.

Ethnography is everywhere. If you’re looking for it.

Image: man marking Time Out TV schedule on the Central Line tube last night. Larger image here.

*note: I use the term ‘ethnography’ in that kind of loose way that lots of us in HCI use it. Apologies to *real* ethnographers :)

customer experience: the bad, and the worse

Frustrated

Unfortunately, very average customer experiences are not hard to come across… even from brands that you really want to like… It’s a shame, because sometimes the smallest things can make all the difference. Like… if you’re giving people an automated, machine driven service, then maybe play on what’s good about it – the speed, possibly the accuracy? And compensate for the downside – the lack of personal service. And if humans are providing the service, then *behave* like a human being who is interactive with another human being.

I’m not just an email address you know. I’m a person. And I’m suitably frustrated, concerned, upset by something about your company to be contacting you. I don’t complain much. Perhaps you might take a moment to think about what kind of emotions I might be experiencing and ensure that your response is appropriate to those emotions…. otherwise I might get to thinking you don’t care. If you’ve done something kind of dodgy, then maybe – oh, I don’t know – apologise?!

Good customer experience is very rarely rocket science. It’s usually just a matter of giving a damn and being a little bit thoughtful.

OK, so this is a venting and sharing post. But hopefully it’s instructional and interesting. You be the judge. Or, better still, feel free to vent and share similarly dodgy experiences.

Let’s look at two recent experiences… which will we start with. Bad or Worse?

Continue reading

Attack of the killer Assumptions (and how to overcome them)

assume the position

Assumptions are something we battle in kinds of ways. I know when I was doing more project management, trying to get a handle on project assumptions and documenting them was a necessary challenge. Understanding and documenting assumptions was critical to managing my client’s expectations, and making sure that it was actually possible for me to deliver a project on time and on budget.

These days, I’m more likely to make assumptions about the way that people will understand an interface and what they’ll find easy to use. Even though I continually try to train myself NOT to bring assumptions to the table when I’m designing or testing designs – or at least, to position my assumptions more as hypotheses than as a personal truth.

I often learn as much about my own inbuilt assumptions as I do about how people interact with particular interfaces… even now when we are all conscious of the new challenges created by different kinds of novel interface element, it’s a constant challenge to keep assumptions under control (which is – in my opinion – to make them conscious assumptions).

I’ve been thinking about this subject for a few years now and have asked lots of people along the way about their experiences so it was reassuring to see Kathy Sierra sum up my quandary so succinctly in her recent post on Assumptions (and their use by dates):

The really big problem is the assumptions which are so ingrained that we don’t even know they’re assumptions. They become an accepted Law of Physics, as good as gravity.

For me, assumptions are something that you usually become aware of after they’ve bitten you in the butt. Once they’re known, conscious and documented they’re not so scary… in fact, they’re not scary at all.

It’s kind of like being afraid of the dark… when you can’t see what’s under the bed, you imagine all kinds of hideous things. Once the light is on, you wonder how on earth you let your imagination run away with you so crazily.

Kathy is right – once you’ve recognised your assumptions, you can’t just leave them sitting there. You need to pull them out and re-examine them every now and then and make sure that they’re still as they should be, or update them if you need to. (Or, potentially throw them away as irrelevant).

But here’s my question – what do *you* do to try to expose these really dangerous assumptions? The ones you don’t even know that you have? How do you bring them to light and make them known and not dangerous?

Come on. Help me take out some of these killer assumptions.

:)

Image Credit: Kayaness @ Flickr