For the past 15 years, delivery of location-based community information has been fragmented across departments and delivered through archaic and inconsistent user interfaces. In short, user needs and their experience weren’t considered so much. Over the past year, we’ve had a chance to work with the eCityGov alliance to create a new information service that was focused on the end user and how they could efficiently access the information they need.
We are very proud of the new NWMaps.net, launched this past June. It takes the best conventions of web-design and provides an efficient means to access a plethora of community information from property-based information to community demographics, from environmental resource information to commercial property listings. NWMaps.net is a one-stop shop for the citizens living in the central Puget Sound Region.
The application has a true service oriented architecture that not only incorporates web map services, but mashes in several other web services (permits, parks and commercial property listings) from third-party sources. This architecture not only allows for extensibility when other data come online, it also provides a means by which the data and services can be exploited directly via their REST endpoints by other applications.
The real advantage of NWMaps comes from the user experience it provides. Site layout is simple. There is a Home page, a Results page and a Map view Page. The home page provides a single search box that will accept addresses, place names or parcel numbers. As far as we know, this is the first time this kind of custom search has been provided. We think it responds to users’ expectations for a Google-like search experience, including type-ahead suggestions and search criteria disambiguation.
In addition to the flexible parameters, users can pre-select the composition of their results by choosing a “Quick Search” option. If one is selected, related themes are promoted on the results page, putting the specifics they are looking for front and center.
While the information accessible to the user is voluminous, we did not want to overwhelm them with pages and pages of results, so each result topic is contained in a results panel, collapsed by default. While the information is initially hidden, feedback on the number of results is given (where relevant) on the results bar.
While the name of the site is NWMaps, the map doesn’t dominate the experience… unless the user wants it to. In the normal site flow, the user enters a search on the home page and once taken to the results page is presented with a set of “map snapshots” that give the user map-based visualizations of information within the immediate vicinity of their search result. If the user wants to have a “traditional” web map experience, they can go directly to the map view which incorporates both the unified search and a set of map tools that support a variety of specialized tasks.
This post is already getting long, but there is a lot more to share about the NWMaps.net which I’ll include in a follow up post. In the meantime, Check out the new NWMaps.net, we think it’s pretty cool.