For the Participants
With the limited time that I had between wrestling and traveling this weekend, I presented two example (not complete) exhibits (one in Neatline and one in Google Maps Engine) to students to figure out which type is better and/or which parts from each one I should keep or eliminate. First, I asked the participants to choose which one they preferred visually based on appearance and ease of understanding. I chose this as my highest priority question because the visual of the map is the first impression that the viewer will receive. Second, I had them decide which one had a better interactive feature. Both require the viewer to click to see the different maps for the types of students; in Neatline, the viewer clicks through waypoints, and in Google Maps Engine, the viewer clicks to toggle layers on and off. The result is essentially the same, but I chose this feature as another high priority question because it is the sole way of ‘traveling’ through the exhibit. Third, I had them compare the text features of each exhibit; Neatline presents descriptions for each way point in a single text area while Google Maps Engine presents descriptions, not for each layer, but for each marker, line, polygon, etc… of the layer. Fourth, I had them comment on color; Neatline is more limited with color than Google Maps Engine, so it basically came down to whether more color was better or didn’t make a difference. From these comments, I could determine which platform I should continue to build on and even what I should add to each one. However, I still had the participants comment on what could enhance each exhibit rather than only compare the two. I asked what could be taken away or added to the descriptions, what they would like to see (if possible) regarding paths, buildings, or even another layer ( for example: a combination layer that takes all the student variables together), etc…Lastly, I asked what they felt was missing based on their own knowledge of maps.
Neatline vs. Google Maps Engine
From the feedback, the biggest, significant differences between these two platforms are presentation of color, descriptions, and layers. On color, most of my participants preferred Google Maps Engine because each layer could contain different colors whereas, in Neatline, each layer can have a different color than another layer, but the color in each layer can only be one. The variation in color proved to be helpful in showing information in a single layer rather as well as layer to layer. What I mean by that is: in Google Maps Engine, I can make the academic buildings in every layer red, the athletic buildings blue, and the living buildings yellow. This helps viewers see the different types of places a certain student goes to AND which type of places are eliminated or added as they switch to other layers.
On descriptions, some liked Google Maps Engine, but more liked Neatline because the description is all in one place for each waypoint. I thought that more would prefer Google because they could click a building/path to see a specific description instead of reading a long description on Neatline. However, more passive interaction seemed to be what people were comfortable with. In defense of Google Maps Engine, clicking through each building for a description is more informative since it gives the title and highlights the location of each building (this would be more effective for someone who is unfamiliar with the campus). It comes down to amount of clicking vs. amount of information.
On the presentation of layers, Google Maps Engine prevailed. The feedback showed that toggling layers on and off was more effective at showing differences between the types of students than moving from waypoint to waypoint. Also, the viewer has control of seeing combinations of variables by toggling. For example, they can see all of layers at once or they can toggle underclassman student non-athlete, in a PCO and toggle upperclassman student athlete, not in a PCO. With Neatline, I would have to make specific waypoints in order to give the viewer that ability. From the feedback, it isn’t as black and white as saying one is better than the other; the combination of features is what makes one more effective. So, for the presentation of layers, I noticed that color and clicking were still playing a role into how the participants made their choices even though I separated color and layers into different questions.
As for what could be added or taken away from each exhibit, I feel that I may have primed the participants by having them compare the exhibits first. I received more feedback for Neatline referring to the addition of features; the participants wanted to see more paths and more color. For Google Maps Engine, some of the participants wanted more of an initial summary of the project before they started viewing but didn’t say much about adding buildings or paths.
I am going to pursue the completion of the exhibit in Google Maps Engine. It is better at presenting an argument largely because of the color variation, toggling of layers, and clicking of individual buildings in a layer. I need to figure out a way to have a brief description of my project since Google Maps Engine doesn’t have descriptions unless they are assigned to a marker, line, polygon, etc… Instead of each layer being a different color as it what in Neatline, I am going to have each type of building be a different color. So, academic buildings will be one color in all layers, and athletic buildings will be another color in all layers. This will also require me to have a legend, which I need to figure out as well (could go in the initial summary). The description of each variable will be broken into the buildings and paths in each layer. The viewer will learn about the type of student as they click through the map; this will require the viewer to actually click to see information, but I feel that it will be more effective because the viewer will see the highlighted building with the text attached to it. I won’t have to make extra layers that combine variables since the viewer has control of toggling certain layers on and off. My only worry is that the viewer will have to interact with the map on the same screen in which I edit it; in that case, I will have to direct the viewer which buttons not to press.