Mapillary

Mapillary is a service for crowdsourcing street level photos.

Users create geolocated photo sequences with simple tools such as smartphones and action cameras.

THE CHALLENGE

Identify usability issues and task flow problems that users face in the app.

Even though Mapillary had a wide range of users (among them very committed members of the OSM community, commercial clients and people simply exploring the world), their user retention was low.

Our task was to identify usability issues and task flow problems that users face when using Mapillary.

Other Mapillary features include computer vision on the server-side that automatically matches and combines photos across time and users.

In addition, photos are processed with privacy, blurring faces and license plates. Finally, Mapillary provides both commercial and private APIs so that others can build solutions using the extracted data.

Even though Mapillary had a wide range of users (among them very committed members of the OSM community, commercial clients and people simply exploring the world), their user retention was low.

Our task was to identify usability issues and task flow problems that users face when using Mapillary.

The analysis

Knowing that Mapillary’s purpose and usership expands the entire globe, we knew from the start that Remote Moderated Research (RMR) was going to be used.  

To prepare for this, as with any UX research, the first step was to perform a standard SWOT analysis comparing Mapillary to its competitors. What are the Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, and Threats that affect their platform?

The SWOT analysis provided us with the first glimpse at user motivation. We then expanded on this by creating a persona profile that would help us empathize with, and identify the behaviors of, Mapillary users.

We were able to describe users as people who are committed to the community, technology oriented and open data advocates. With this knowledge we easily formulated the research tasks for the Remote Moderated Research (RMR).

The Method

For Mapillary we conducted Remote Moderated Research (RMR) in the form of usability tests via video chat and screen sharing software.

Given the fact that Mapillary’s purpose and usership expands the entire globe, RMR just made sense.

This method allowed for us to:
  • Recruit users faster and easier from such a large pool of candidates
  • Test users from different parts of the world and obtain a wider variety of insights
  • Gain understanding of how people actually use the app on their own devices

During the recorded usability testing users were asked to:
  1. Share and explain their preferred mode (Walking Manual, Walking Auto Shot, Riding, or Panorama) and device
  2. Create a sequence from start to finish
  3. Upload the sequence
  4. Edit the sequence

All the while users were asked to “think out loud” and to share their reasoning, feelings and desires.

The UX Findings

Feedback from the RMR was input into a Concept Fan, a collaborative exercise that allowed the UX Team to discover alternative approaches.

We were able to identify three of the most critical user issues:
  1. The app is depends on a GPS signal. Without a GPS signal users cannot create sequences. The GPS dependence also caused sequences to be broken into two or more pieces.
  2. Users struggle to locate, edit and merge broken sequences.
  3. The uploading process uses a great amount of bandwidth, at times stretching out for days, and negatively affects user commitment.

The UI Solution

The straightforward UX Findings led to straightforward solutions.

For Mapillary we recommend:
  • Removing the GPS dependency and allowing users to use the app with their GPS signals on or off, depending on their own needs, willingness and GPS availability

  • Providing thumbnails of each sequence in chronological order for easy identification
  • Adding the option to merge sequences

  • Including three simple editing features: rotate, manual face blur and image deletion
  • Accommodating to the global variation of internet availability and connectivity by allowing users to selectively upload a sequence with the ability pause in between

The TakeAways

User research and interpretation is a constant process that should accompany the lifetime of a software product, even those that are well established and well loved.

Remote Moderated Research is an effective and low cost method that’s especially useful for far-reaching or global applications.

When creating a global application, keep a global mindset. Take factors such as bandwidth and internet connectivity into your design considerations.

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