diamond geezer

 Thursday, March 27, 2014

So, the TfL website has updated. A beta website had been running in parallel for the last nine months, giving the Online Team a chance to fine tune all aspects of the final design before it went live. So when the big button was pressed and the new site replaced the old, were people pleased with the result? Well yes. And no.

Let's talk [Maps]. Sorry, you didn't think I'd finished, did you?

It's interesting that the first map you see on the new [Maps] page isn't the world famous tube map. Indeed the first map you'll see isn't even a TfL creation, but an interactive map based on the increasingly ubiquitous Google Maps representation of the capital. I'm intrigued by TfL's embrace of Google Maps, and the parallel phasing out of their bespoke streetmap dataset for public-facing purposes. One reason they've given is that Google Maps will be familiar to the target audience, and that's certainly true, and presumably it's cheaper than running your own cartographic operation too. At least they've bought a license for the ad-free version, so you won't be zooming in to find markers for White Tiger Accounting Services and Big Jean's Massage.

You will need to zoom in quite a lot though. There's nothing interactive on the initial level, nor if you zoom in once, nor if you zoom in twice. On zoom 3 a lot of small bubbles pop up marking the positions of stations, and on zoom 4 those stations suddenly gain names. The name labels are quite large and may obscure the bit of London you want to look at (and occasionally after too many zooms they become so obstructive that you have to refresh the page and start again). Zoom 4 is also the level at which bus stops and cycle hire docking stations become visible, pictured as red and blue dots respectively. The blue dots are clickable, revealing up-to-the-minute data for numbers of bikes in a usefully pictorial manner. Perversely the red dots don't become active until zoom 7, at which point the circles enlarge to show the bus stop's letter, and then you can click to discover which buses stop here. The next three buses due will appear... that's underneath the map, which may be off the bottom of your screen... and one more click should bring up all departures over the next half hour. It may have taken you a while to get here, but the end result is very useful.

But there is a better, more interactive map than this, which you can discover if you click on [Nearby]. As I mentioned yesterday this brings up a map centred on your current location, plus a list of all the neighbouring bus stops and stations. When you click on a bus stop this time something rather special happens. The route of every bus from that bus stop appears as a red line on the map, instantly creating a network diagram showing everywhere you can go on one bus. You won't see the full picture immediately - for that you have to zoom out, probably several times. But there it is, your very own spider map centred on the stop of your choice, indeed on any bus stop in London.

TfL's Online Team had hoped we'd be so impressed by these digital spider maps that we wouldn't need the originals any more. You know the ones, the spider maps that appear on bus shelters, pdfs of which had been available for many years on an increasingly well-hidden subpage of the TfL website. When the site updated all the spider maps disappeared, because they weren't deemed necessary for public access in the future. The public disagreed. That's partly because they hadn't noticed the new digital spider maps - they're not exactly obvious - but also because they're not as good. Every bus route on the digital bus map is marked in red, so it's not possible to untangle the lines to tell which numbered route goes where. You have to zoom out to see the full picture, whereas on the static map you can see everything in one go. You then have to zoom back in again to discover where the bus stops are and more importantly what they're called, because Google Maps is supremely rubbish at place names.

In his latest post on the TfL Digital Blog, Head of Online Phil Young addresses this issue of downloadable bus maps.
It’s clear from your feedback that some of you love the ‘spider’ maps and area maps, which are pdfs. We’ve created some really nice interactive maps that show you transport links near your given location (try them in ‘Nearby’), and display live information such as bus routes and stops, and cycle hire docking stations. However it’s clear that for some this can’t replace the original maps, so we’ll be adding these to the new site shortly as well.
That's excellent news. But I sense that Phil is slightly bemused that anyone might still want non-interactive maps when something 'better' is available. You might also wonder how all the audience research TfL conducted over several months failed to pick up the public's affection for spider maps. But instead you should realise that the people who use spider maps form a tiny minority of those who use the site. Only clued-up individuals plan their own journeys these days, that is at any level above tracing a route on the tube map. You and I might be the sort of people who want to see in advance where all the buses from Clapham Junction go, but most people don't care, or can wait until they get there to look at a map.

Indeed one thing you'll struggle to find on the launch version of TfL's updated website is any kind of map that shows more than one bus route at the same time. The old spider maps did that, but they were removed. The four quadrant bus maps still exist on folded paper, but are no longer accessible as pdfs. Instead the [Bus maps] page only allows you to search for a single route or single location, not to get an overview of how buses serve a particular part of town. The single route maps are very good, showing clearly where single bus routes go and with a clickable list of bus stops underneath. But independent multi-journey planning is now discouraged in favour of being spoonfed the choice of routes that the Journey Planner dishes up.

Enough of buses, what of the world famous tube map I mentioned earlier? It's there on the Maps page, but it's the third option down in the menu below the more inclusive [Tube and Rail] option. Both maps appear embedded in the page, and if you want to move around you have to swipe or scroll. That's assuming you can. Sometimes when I land on the page these maps are scrollable, and at other times I can only see the top left hand corner, and I can see no rhyme or reason why. You need to be able to zoom in to read the names of the stations, but then you can't see the whole of the map any more, because that's how embedded maps work. On my mobile I can't find a 'close' button on the tube map, which is annoying, and I can't load the Tube and Rail map at all because it appears to be blank. But it is nice to still have the option to view the tube map as a pdf or gif - indeed if you have any sense you'll save one or other to your handheld device so that you can access the map even when there's no signal.

Several other maps for several other modes of transport are also available, again now as embedded maps surrounded by white space. There's a DLR diagram like they have aboard the trains. There's a Tramlink diagram like they have aboard the trams. There's an Overground diagram laid out better than they have aboard the trains. And there's a National Rail map which turns out to be exactly the same map as the Tube and Rail map four options further up the list, except this time with a download option. The Cycle Hire map is essentially the same as the main interactive map but with all the stations and bus stops turned off. And the interactive River map is particularly obtuse in that boats apparently sail from their nearest railway station, not from the actual pier, until you finally zoom in close enough.

As well as [Maps] you'd expect the TfL website to have a section devoted to [Timetables]. Not so. We've moved on it seems from old-fashioned lists of times at several key stops along the route, and now the focus is solely on departure times from where you are. On most routes TfL run a turn-up-and-go service, so they'd argue why would you need a timetable anyway? Live departure boards tell you all you need to know assuming you're travelling now, and Journey Planner can crunch the numbers for any future trip. I'm sure the beta version of the website had individual timetable pages for every stop on every bus route, which was rather useful, but I've looked and looked and I can't find that feature on the final version of the site.

But it seems there is going to be a section devoted to timetables. The four London Overground timetables have transferred across to the new site here, at a URL which suggests that www.tfl.gov.uk/travel-information/timetables will one day be a reality. Just not yet, and it's not yet clear how many other 'proper' timetables will follow. Meanwhile there is one astonishing addition on the new website and that's the appearance of every one of London Underground's Working Timetables. These are the massive documents that schedule train paths to the nearest half minute, the bread and butter on which the entire network runs. And they're all now downloadable by the public, presumably because TfL were getting very tired of the public repeatedly launching Freedom of Information requests to ask for them. Nerds of London, read and enjoy.

Indeed if you dig down under the surface, there is a phenomenal amount of information on the TfL website, reflecting considerable openness in the runnings of the organisation. Forget the heavily promoted menu at the top op the page and try clicking around at the bottom to see what you can find. How to become a tube busker, a list of disused underground stations, the contract Emirates signed for sponsorship of the cablecar, a list of stations gaining step-free access over the next seven years. But you won't yet be able to access TfL's press release archive, which for some reason still languishes on the old website because nobody's managed to transfer it all yet.

TfL's new website has been launched before it's even 90% ready, that much is clear. But that's Agile software development for you - making changes as you go along in response to feedback. So do keep feeding back your opinions on what does and what absolutely doesn't work. And I suspect that, however much you hate the redesign today, come 2020 or whenever you'll be pleading with TfL not to replace it with something new.

<< click for Newer posts

click for Older Posts >>

click to return to the main page

...or read more in my monthly archives
Jan21  Feb21  Mar21  Apr21  May21
Jan20  Feb20  Mar20  Apr20  May20  Jun20  Jul20  Aug20  Sep20  Oct20  Nov20  Dec20
Jan19  Feb19  Mar19  Apr19  May19  Jun19  Jul19  Aug19  Sep19  Oct19  Nov19  Dec19
Jan18  Feb18  Mar18  Apr18  May18  Jun18  Jul18  Aug18  Sep18  Oct18  Nov18  Dec18
Jan17  Feb17  Mar17  Apr17  May17  Jun17  Jul17  Aug17  Sep17  Oct17  Nov17  Dec17
Jan16  Feb16  Mar16  Apr16  May16  Jun16  Jul16  Aug16  Sep16  Oct16  Nov16  Dec16
Jan15  Feb15  Mar15  Apr15  May15  Jun15  Jul15  Aug15  Sep15  Oct15  Nov15  Dec15
Jan14  Feb14  Mar14  Apr14  May14  Jun14  Jul14  Aug14  Sep14  Oct14  Nov14  Dec14
Jan13  Feb13  Mar13  Apr13  May13  Jun13  Jul13  Aug13  Sep13  Oct13  Nov13  Dec13
Jan12  Feb12  Mar12  Apr12  May12  Jun12  Jul12  Aug12  Sep12  Oct12  Nov12  Dec12
Jan11  Feb11  Mar11  Apr11  May11  Jun11  Jul11  Aug11  Sep11  Oct11  Nov11  Dec11
Jan10  Feb10  Mar10  Apr10  May10  Jun10  Jul10  Aug10  Sep10  Oct10  Nov10  Dec10 
Jan09  Feb09  Mar09  Apr09  May09  Jun09  Jul09  Aug09  Sep09  Oct09  Nov09  Dec09
Jan08  Feb08  Mar08  Apr08  May08  Jun08  Jul08  Aug08  Sep08  Oct08  Nov08  Dec08
Jan07  Feb07  Mar07  Apr07  May07  Jun07  Jul07  Aug07  Sep07  Oct07  Nov07  Dec07
Jan06  Feb06  Mar06  Apr06  May06  Jun06  Jul06  Aug06  Sep06  Oct06  Nov06  Dec06
Jan05  Feb05  Mar05  Apr05  May05  Jun05  Jul05  Aug05  Sep05  Oct05  Nov05  Dec05
Jan04  Feb04  Mar04  Apr04  May04  Jun04  Jul04  Aug04  Sep04  Oct04  Nov04  Dec04
Jan03  Feb03  Mar03  Apr03  May03  Jun03  Jul03  Aug03  Sep03  Oct03  Nov03  Dec03
 Jan02  Feb02  Mar02  Apr02  May02  Jun02  Jul02 Aug02  Sep02  Oct02  Nov02  Dec02 

eXTReMe Tracker
jack of diamonds
Life viewed from London E3

» email me
» follow me on twitter
» follow the blog on Twitter
» follow the blog on RSS

» my flickr photostream

twenty blogs
ian visits
blue witch
the great wen
edith's streets
spitalfields life
in the aquarium
round the island
wanstead meteo
christopher fowler
ruth's coastal walk
the ladies who bus
round the rails we go
london reconnections
dirty modern scoundrel
from the murky depths
exploring urban wastelands

quick reference features
Things to do in Outer London
Things to do outside London
Inner London toilet map
The DG Tour of Britain

read the archive
Apr21  Mar21  Feb21  Jan21
Dec20  Nov20  Oct20  Sep20
Aug20  Jul20  Jun20  May20
Apr20  Mar20  Feb20  Jan20
Dec19  Nov19  Oct19  Sep19
Aug19  Jul19  Jun19  May19
Apr19  Mar19  Feb19  Jan19
Dec18  Nov18  Oct18  Sep18
Aug18  Jul18  Jun18  May18
Apr18  Mar18  Feb18  Jan18
Dec17  Nov17  Oct17  Sep17
Aug17  Jul17  Jun17  May17
Apr17  Mar17  Feb17  Jan17
Dec16  Nov16  Oct16  Sep16
Aug16  Jul16  Jun16  May16
Apr16  Mar16  Feb16  Jan16
Dec15  Nov15  Oct15  Sep15
Aug15  Jul15  Jun15  May15
Apr15  Mar15  Feb15  Jan15
Dec14  Nov14  Oct14  Sep14
Aug14  Jul14  Jun14  May14
Apr14  Mar14  Feb14  Jan14
Dec13  Nov13  Oct13  Sep13
Aug13  Jul13  Jun13  May13
Apr13  Mar13  Feb13  Jan13
Dec12  Nov12  Oct12  Sep12
Aug12  Jul12  Jun12  May12
Apr12  Mar12  Feb12  Jan12
Dec11  Nov11  Oct11  Sep11
Aug11  Jul11  Jun11  May11
Apr11  Mar11  Feb11  Jan11
Dec10  Nov10  Oct10  Sep10
Aug10  Jul10  Jun10  May10
Apr10  Mar10  Feb10  Jan10
Dec09  Nov09  Oct09  Sep09
Aug09  Jul09  Jun09  May09
Apr09  Mar09  Feb09  Jan09
Dec08  Nov08  Oct08  Sep08
Aug08  Jul08  Jun08  May08
Apr08  Mar08  Feb08  Jan08
Dec07  Nov07  Oct07  Sep07
Aug07  Jul07  Jun07  May07
Apr07  Mar07  Feb07  Jan07
Dec06  Nov06  Oct06  Sep06
Aug06  Jul06  Jun06  May06
Apr06  Mar06  Feb06  Jan06
Dec05  Nov05  Oct05  Sep05
Aug05  Jul05  Jun05  May05
Apr05  Mar05  Feb05  Jan05
Dec04  Nov04  Oct04  Sep04
Aug04  Jul04  Jun04  May04
Apr04  Mar04  Feb04  Jan04
Dec03  Nov03  Oct03  Sep03
Aug03  Jul03  Jun03  May03
Apr03  Mar03  Feb03  Jan03
Dec02  Nov02  Oct02  Sep02
back to main page

the diamond geezer index
2020 2019 2018 2017 2016
2015 2014 2013 2012 2011
2010 2009 2008 2007 2006
2005 2004 2003 2002

my special London features
a-z of london museums
E3 - local history month
greenwich meridian (N)
greenwich meridian (S)
the real eastenders
london's lost rivers
olympic park 2007
great british roads
oranges & lemons
random boroughs
bow road station
high street 2012
river westbourne
trafalgar square
capital numbers
east london line
lea valley walk
olympics 2005
regent's canal
square routes
silver jubilee
unlost rivers
cube routes
Herbert Dip
capital ring
river fleet

ten of my favourite posts
the seven ages of blog
my new Z470xi mobile
five equations of blog
the dome of doom
chemical attraction
quality & risk
london 2102
single life
april fool

ten sets of lovely photos
my "most interesting" photos
london 2012 olympic zone
harris and the hebrides
betjeman's metro-land
marking the meridian
tracing the river fleet
london's lost rivers
inside the gherkin
seven sisters

just surfed in?
here's where to find...
diamond geezers
flash mob #1  #2  #3  #4
ben schott's miscellany
london underground
watch with mother
cigarette warnings
digital time delay
wheelie suitcases
war of the worlds
transit of venus
top of the pops
old buckenham
ladybird books
acorn antiques
digital watches
outer hebrides
olympics 2012
school dinners
pet shop boys
west wycombe
bletchley park
george orwell
big breakfast
clapton pond
san francisco
children's tv
east enders
trunk roads
little britain
credit cards
jury service
big brother
jubilee line
number 1s
titan arum
doctor who
blue peter
peter pan
feng shui
leap year
bbc three
vision on
ID cards