Wednesday, April 26, 2006

Anatomy of a Mad Navigator

User trust in online mapping tools...

"I am geographically dyslexic. I go up the elevator into my hotel room—and when I leave I invariably turn the wrong way to go back to the elevator. In building 10 at Microsoft I needed a guide to get me to and from the restroom after being lost multiple times! Then there was the time I spent 2 hours trying to follow the directions between Cupertino and Palo Alto. In fact I had never successfully driven in and out of my hometown of Boston until my husband could direct me on the cell phone. The only constant in my directional ability is that my gut instinct is always wrong—except when it isn’t because I know the route.

For people who have no sense of direction, north, south, east, and west have no meaning at all. The good new is that if I have very explicit instructions I can and do get around. I travel the world and generally show up where I’m supposed to be. (But my clients eventually figure out that I need instructions all the time forward and backward—I have no ability to reverse what I just drove!).

In the old days—before Mapquest et al—we would just call the client, get the instructions, and then change them from “go north” to “turn right and turn left.” That always worked. But since the advent of mapping technology I’ve been in more breakdowns than ever.
Mapping tools don’t work for geographically challenged people

Why is that? Mapping tools aren’t always right—in fact they are often wrong. Instructions on websites are often wrong or don’t consider where you are coming from. Highways change numbers—construction happens. But more than anything else mapping tools make people lazy. My secretaries all prefer to “map it” instead of calling and my clients all “map it” instead of describing what they do. Of course the steps are all written out so it saves the helper time—but the steps that are printed aren’t the steps I need to know.

For example, Take exit 27” is simple and clear; “Turn slightly east, turn slightly, south for .01 miles” is not. “Take Route 42” is clear. Why? I can follow a route but instruction like “turn right on Main Street which merges into First Street and then turn left on Jones Street” gives me three transitions to pay attention to instead of 1 simple sign to follow. And no mapping tool says to you, “Don’t get confused by the Route 1A sign that comes up early, there is a later one too.” So since mapping tools have been invented I have gotten lost more often—and though it is unseemly—many have wondered if I needed a driver like Miss Daisy."   continued ...   (Via incontext)


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