After using the RTA for a test run today, I have a few ideas for improvements that would either add functionality that I really want, or improve existing functionality to make it more usable (in my mind) -- I totally understand that different people have different needs/uses, or some of my issues may have work arounds (or functionality I just couldn't find) -- but I always feel like the best way to develop a useful tool is to at least hear/discuss all the ideas people have, so here goes. For each request, I will include a description of how I am using/plan to use the tool, a description of the request, and an explanation of why I believe it would be useful.
1. "Improved My Custom Places Management": I plan to have hundreds, or probably thousands, of entries under "My Custom Places" - many of them will fall onto only one or two of my probably 50-100 "My Maps" -- personally, I do not expect to ever have a "My Routes" or any of the other ideas listed there. (We make up routes as we go, based on our mood, the time of day, and when our next activity starts/ends) -- the UI doesn't lend itself well to this. On my test map, I have 15 entries in "My Custom Places" and three "My Maps" -- the custom places list seems like it will quickly become unusable and unwieldy with even a hundred entries, let alone a thousand. Furthermore, it's likely that "My Maps" will be such that for any given road trip, I only need one (or maybe as many as four or five) maps, but my account would still have all my previous road trip maps. This feature request could probably be filled out to fifty smaller feature requests, but I believe the relationship between maps, places, and what's in the UI could be made significantly more user friendly (and powerful) with some simple goals (I can think of a variety of ways to implement each goal, and I don't really see huge pros/cons to any of them):
1.a: Hide Old Maps. I want a map of every house I've ever lived in. I want a map of where I actually went on a road trip. I want maps to plan road trips. I want all my old road trips. But at any given time, I only want a couple maps to toggle on/off for my current activity. I should be able to hide old maps. (Archive maps, using a separate configuration page? Or perhaps have a higher level category "Trips" which have maps in them (like maps have places), and you can select one trip from a pulldown at a time, and the Maps list only populates with maps in that trip? (A map should be able to be in multiple trips if this is the case)...
1.b: A "Hide Places Not On Map(s)" option. Right now, the "My Custom Places" list seems to show every place I've ever saved, on all maps, or even on no maps. While this helps you add them to new maps, it also makes the list nearly unusable most of the time. If I am viewing a map for my planned road trip, I want a nice concise list of places on that map, which I can use to access the information about those places. (I realize I can click the locations on the map, but I might only remember the name, and not where it is.) -- other options for lists of places, like sorting by name instead of number could be thrown in here too.
1.c: Basically, I feel like I naturally think of using a map like this as interacting with some set of data. There's RTA data, which you have search options for, and there's my personal data, which I need to manage. Most of my request is about managing my personal data, and I realize there's a million different use cases for this information, so sometimes my ideas of hiding places not on maps is inconvenient, but always showing everything is also inconvenient. I'd like a good UI for planning a Trip, which contains various Maps, each Map has things (places, routes, etc) on it. A given place could be on multiple maps, and a given map could be on multiple trips (my "East Coast Route 1" trip would contain maps from my Maine trip, Mass trip, etc.. :) ) -- so I am trying to come up with ways to make all the management of my personal data more convenient... Here's the idea I originally had, although I'd guess it's too late to do this. My idea is basically "Here's a place, here's a list of tags/keywords for that place." Then the "maps" are auto-generated by taking every tag you use, and making a map out of it. So it's super easy to add a place to a variety of maps. So, I'd add a place, like "Jim's CheeseSteaks, South St., Philadelphia" - click search, type "food PA Philly sat sun" and it would create "Maps" with those names, or add this place to maps with those names already there. This basically replaces "maps" with a tag viewer, so I just add places to trips, and a trip has a list of keywords for places on that trip...
1.d: A "Don't Show Unused Lists" option: I don't need to use my screen real estate on empty lists of Routes. Perhaps replace that list with a link "Add Routes to Trip," to clean up the interface? (This kinda leads into #2) (This could also just be "hide lists that don't have data" -- what's the need to have 4 empty lists for the RTA search results before I've even searched once? Pages are dynamic, just set the visibility of the lists to "hidden" until they have data?)
2. General page improvements: I have a variety of thoughts to improve the usability of the page itself.
2.a: I've read the instructions, I don't need a huge HTML page loaded all the time to remind me how to click a button. The page seems like it would be more usable if all the instructions were on a separate page linked, or little (?) icons which pop up instructions. Ideally, I wouldn't have a scrollbar at all when at a reasonable resolution on the page. (Possibly even have options to change what my expected resolution is, to make it fit?) -- I'd remove all the instructions. The "Click to add a place" instructions with a "Click Here" button could be completed replaced with a "Add Place" button, and a little (?) questionmark next to it to explain it, same with "Enter address: [ box ] <enter> Click Here: [FindOnMap Button]" - could just be "[ box ] [ Find Location ] (?)" on one line.
2.b: Hide search features I don't use: I don't plan to use "Create Automatic Route" regularly, if ever. I'd rather my map be larger, or my list of custom places be larger, or to have less of a scroll bar, instead of having so many search features at the bottom. Lots of options to improve this: A pulldown of "Search Types" and when you select one, it hides the UI for the current one, and shows the newly selected one. Or little down arrows with titles for the search types, so I can show/hide them dynamically. Or an options page where I can choose to hide ones I do not want to see. Anything to provide more usable space, and less features a given person won't use taking up space.
3: Other UI improvements: A variety of other quirks/issues with the UI:
3.a: The "description" of notes loses carriage returns and doesn't process HTML - if there's a way to get formatting into the description, it should be included in the instructions (or a (?) link)), but if it's possible to just use pre-formatted text, so we can put returns in, that seems like the easiest/most user friendly option. But just appending my three paragraph description of something as extra sentences makes it very confusing to read.
3.b: After I search for an address with "add a place approach #2", you put the address as the description. Is it possible to fill in the address fields with this information? (I haven't used Google's map API, but maybe they provide the parsed address information?)
4: Misc. Feature Requests: Here's just a few things I'd hope to see in the near future, many of which might already be planned or requested?
4.a: Icon selection, custom icons, etc: I like house-shaped icons for places I plan to sleep, hiking icons for places I plan to walk, cheeseburger icons for places I plan to eat, etc. Seeing 40 of the exact same icon doesn't make it easy for me to realize I'm in the middle of a food district, or to pick out the Factory Tour in the middle of a busy area.
4.b: Have a trip-level (which I think we definitely need, the more I think about this) "default zoom" -- for instance, I'd have a PA trip, an ME trip, a CT trip, etc. When I load the PA trip, I'd like it to zoom to show the entire state of PA. Zooming into PA every time I go to the site is annoying, especially if I'm on the road and trying to find an address real quick. Auto-zooming to show a pre-set zoom/location when loading a given trip would be awesome. (or map, or even just a default) -- just a little button that says "Save As Default Map View" or something would be awesome.
4.c: Basic "directions to/from this custom place" feature: If I'm on the road, at one of my custom places, and I'd like to see the suggested route to another place, it'd be most convenient to use your site to build a (temporary) route based on the places.
Those are my thoughts/ideas so far. I'm not sure what level of development is going on, or what your plans are, or how much you guys are interested in using our feedback/implementing one person's ideas, so I guess I'll see how this goes (discussion/implementation wise), and move on from there.
I think this tool looks really promising, and hope I can help it grow and put it to good use at the same time. :) Thanks!