Using Online Maps to Engage Citizens in the Google EraJuly 10, 2012Online MappingBy: Richard LinShare: TwitterFacebookLinkedInEmailLast week we hosted an educational webinar “Talk to Me: Using Online Maps to Engage Citizens in the Google Era.”The webinar focused on how, in the Google Era of instant information, citizens have heightened expectations of government communications. No longer can municipalities ignore the changing rules of communication and pervasiveness of web 2.0 innovations. Municipalities must be transparent, provide anytime/anywhere information access, and engage in two-way conversation with citizens. While this may sound overwhelming, online maps and cloud services are making it easier than ever to bridge the communication gap with citizens. Our webinar shared some useful tips for how cities can improve citizen engagement and participation using online maps.Keep Your End-User in MindMaps are a great way to showcase your agency’s data and engage citizens, BUT it is important to make sure you design your map with your end-user (the citizen) in mind. Your end-user wants your map to be easy to use; they don’t want to have to learn a new language or hieroglyphics to navigate your map. Along these lines it’s important to embrace the norms of consumer mapping, doing so will make it easy for your citizens to use your map and find what they are looking for. What are these norms? Existing mapping services like Google and Bing are great places to steal ideas from as consumers are already familiar with navigating these maps; why reinvent the wheel?Make it Easy to Access InformationCan’t find the map on your site? That’s a problem. Your end-user should not have to go on a “map hunt” to find your map. Make it easy to find as soon as they arrive on your site. If the user has to click more than a few times to get to your map you run a high risk of losing them. In addition to being able to find the map, ensure your map provides information that is relevant to the user, perhaps a department specific map would be something useful to try out. And a good rule of thumb when trying to figure out what to display on your map, if it isn’t used 90% of the time by the end-user hide it or remove it altogether, it’s not needed!Be Obsessed with PerformanceSo you’ve got your map in place and you’ve figured out what to display on it, good for you. However, you should never be satisfied with your map; it’s critical to always be improving. Check frequently to make sure your map is loading quickly (think seconds) and displaying relevant data sets. Take steps to optimize performance, there’s always something that can be improved. Finally, it’s important to ensure your map displays well on mobile devices; nowadays more and more people are accessing the web on their mobile devices, so make sure you have a mobile-friendly map (and website for that matter).Local government agencies who embrace innovative technologies like online mapping, social media, cloud computing, and web 2.0 benefit greatly and so do their citizens. Benefits include increased transparency, the ability for citizens to self-serve 24/7, greater visibility of community benefits and assets, improved citizen participation and engagement, cost savings, and progressive government. By following these tips you will be well on your way to launching a successful online map and improving communication with your Google Era citizens.Contact us to learn more about best practices for publishing municipal, property and community information to citizens with interactive mapping.