Website Reviews: Healthy Cities and CALots

For this week, I looked at two similar sites about which I have very different feelings. The first, Healthy City, is a fairly intuitive, easy to use site that portrays a variety of demographic, economic, health and other data. CAlots, has similar functions, but manages to hide them in a maze of buggy, counter-intuitive annoyingness.

First, Healthy City: this site is designed for community groups, non-profits and others who require a simple way to display information about given geographic areas. Things I like: 1) it is easy to use. 2) Navigation is intuitive. 3) one can easily save, email, print or share the maps one creates. 4) scrolling around the map is easy (explained more in contrast to CAlots below).

Healthy Cities: 

Healthy City does have some flaws though. First, some of the point data produces points on the map (for instance transit facilities). But when you click on these points, the data associated with them does not pop up. Also, moving the mouse wheel causes the page to refresh, but doesn’t seem to zoom. If it does, it does it in such small increments that it is difficult to tell what direction it is going.

I have been culturing a simmering antipathy for CAlots for a year or so. I find the site almost impossible to use. They had some piece of data on the site that I required for a project (I think assessors data? the site does have a wealth of random datasets) but I A) couldn’t figure out how to use it, and B) when I did figure it out, it would crash all the time. they seem to have corrected the last problem since then, but the site remains quite opaque.

First, they hide all the data. You have to click on a tiny check box to find the layers of data. this type of error occurs all over the page. While each element is well conceived, they fit together in haphazard ways. The legend, for instance, which is fine on its own, will disappear as soon as one scrolls or moves the page.

Another thing that seems relatively minor at first also makes the site difficult to use. When you move around on the map (in map mode, not aerial) it immediately refreshes all the data, before you necessarily finish moving to where you want to be. Since this takes a moment, and it occurs whenever you move even a small increment, navigating around the region is a painstakingly slow, iterative process that takes forever. On Healthy City by contrast, it looks like they wait to refresh the data until you are done moving to a new location, enabling you to move more fluidly.  The screenshot below (of CAlots) shows the random suburb I got stuck in when I was trying to navigate to my neighborhood. It took forever to move on.

CALots: 

I also have other more minor gripes, such as the use of the same symbol for different data sets, so it is impossible to tell what you are looking at. For some data sources, the dialogue box containing variable names is not large to see the full variables, yet it does not allow you to scroll or see the names in some other format. So you just have to guess.

Overall this site seems like it was constructed with a degree of technical proficiency, but no conception of how users actually interact with it.