ArcGIS Desktop 10 UI Wackiness

So recently I’ve moved my work from the 9.3.x version of ArcGIS to 10. There are some really great things with 10 that make it much easier to use1, but there are some other things that I just have to scratch my head and wonder what they heck were they thinking.

Dissolve is Good Honest GIS Work

I had to create a vector output from a Esri Grid last week and I did the good old Desktop equivalent of GRIDPOLY and got my shapefile. But as you’d expect, there was millions of little polygons from the grid. I did what any sane geogeek would do, grabbed the dissolve tool. A couple clicks later I’m ready to hit the run button and watch ArcGIS struggle to dissolve such a large/complex dataset. But when I clicked the run button, away went the dialog and I assumed the process crashed. So bring of the dissolve again and try it all over again. Yup, away goes the dialog and I have no idea what is going on. I go to force quick quit ArcGIS and I see its churning away on the shapefile. Hmph…

ArcGIS 10 Progress Bar

Back to the ArcGIS Desktop window and what do I see in the lower right hand corner? This bizarre feedback…

I’m sure all the ArcGIS 10 users know that thing pretty darn well. All part of the “multi-threading” that ArcGIS 10 does. But it is so counterintuitive that I wonder how many times I might have force quit ArcGIS while that thing was moving along.

So What am I Looking at Here?

It’s an interesting design choice for sure. I wonder if they were in a conference room and couldn’t agree if it should be a progress bar or percentage complete feedback. I can only imagine the “eureka!” moment when they came up with this design choice.

"It's like a progress bar, only better" -- Esri UI Design Specialist

No it could be the most annoying Esri status feedback since that “Cylon eye” thing that ArcView 3.x used to do. I admit, I’m not the youngest rooster in the coop and my eyesight is poor, but I feel like I have to struggle to see what the darn thing is saying. I’m not the only person who feels this way either. I’ve had about 5 emails about this in the past two weeks asking me essentially, “WTF?”.

Neither Here nor There

We all know ArcGIS Desktop 10 is not multi-threaded. Before this hack2, we had that dialog with the progress bar that was usually modal in nature. Click dissolve and then go to YouTube to watch Justin Beiber videos until ArcGIS was done. Now you don’t have to worry about keeping yourself busy while running a geoprocessing task. It does slow down ArcGIS (at least heavy processing), but it is surprisingly workable. But this half-empty solution clearly leads to weird design choices.

No I Don’t Want the Processing Dialog Back

What would work? For me, I like the percent complete feedback over a progress bar. But don’t scroll the darn thing. Just leave it up in the corner where is. If you have to have some sort of indication that something is going on, throw a throbber up there like happens when ArcMap redraws the view. That’s such a more elegant solution than this current one and it won’t make me put my nose on my screen trying to read what the darn thing is saying.

Oh and my dissolve is still running/scrolling along…

1: I love the basemaps being integrated in to the toolbar. So much easier than going to ArcGIS Online and clicking on the LYR file.

2: Now that might be a strong word, it does work pretty darn well. Let us not kid ourselves though, it is just a bandaid solution until they get true multi-threaded ArcGIS out.

Google Hotpot – Yelp Meets Netflix in a Local Recommendation Engine

In August I asked:  Will Reviews Become Google’s First Successful Foray into Social? It struck me at the time that reviews were Google’s strongest and most successful play into the social world. Google had succeeded with Places to garner a significant number of reviews and with the owner review response feature to garner a strong, albeit sometimes, bizarre interaction between reviewers and owners. This dynamic had all the elements of a successful social site.

Google is now building out the strong social nature of their review process with Google Hotpot, a stand alone site and a recomendation engine available in Maps, Places and Mobile. The product, noted as an early release, will offer suggested Places that you will like based on your previous reviews as well as the Places that are liked by your friends.

Since it is a recommendation engine, it will reward the viewer with better information for having written reviews or having friends or both thus making it functional out of the starting gate even without a large friend participation.

If you are friended it will also send you an email notifying you:

Subject: Matthew McGee wants to share recommendations with you on Google Places

Matthew has added you as a friend on Google Places — a smarter way to discover places you’ll love. Add Matthew back to see new recommendations in Google search results, on Google Maps, and on your mobile phone.

Add Matthew as a friend

Google Places is powered by Hotpot, our new local recommendation engine. Every time you rate places on Google, we’ll customize your search results with new recommendations based on your unique tastes. Adding friends whose opinions you trust makes your recommendations even better. Start building your own guide to the world at

– The Google Places team

The recommendations are not just around entertainment or restaurants but around ALL places and are based on your preferred location identifed in Google search. Like all recommendation engines in their early stages without enough real data, results can tend toward the bizarre.

For example it provided me, an staunch non-believer, with suggestions for the local Catholic school and a local church. Perhaps Google is sending me a message. But then what would one think about the recommendation for my own business or a local motel?

This move makes sense of a number of earlier changes that in and of themselves did not make a lot of sense. Hotspot puts their early 2010 addition of Nearby Places of competitors into the Place Page in perspective as well as more recent moves of tightening down privacy in the review process and making your search location choice more visible on the desktop. All necessary to make Hotspot more accurate.

Google has long been working on the separation of Places and Maps. This is as much to give Places a more visible platform as it is to give Maps the freedom to experiment with more social layers without negatively affecting “the franchise”. Latittude, Buzz and now Hotspot are all integrally tied to the Maps platform. Maps offer them an underlying geo awareness for the data as well as a display layer that is visually intuitive.

These social moves leverage Google’s strong Mapping technology AND their successful Places data set without the intense pressure of being on the front page of the Google results. Like Buzz & Lattitude, Hotspot will exist in the relative obscurity of Maps and the Places Pages. Google separated Places from Maps after 6 years of development and refinement. Hotspot, like Places, will have the opportunity to develop in much the same way.

But even the “hidden” nature of Maps has a relatively high profile with 3 times the traffic of Yelp. Google’s every move is compared to Facebook. So while Google is attempting to get these layers functioning at scale they will be under a fair bit of scrutiny.

Will Hotpot succeed? Time will tell. It is clear to to me that Hotspot like Places & Buzz are not perceived within Google as stand alone products but clearly, part of a larger plan that includes local, mobile and at some point the main Google SERPS. Maps is an environment where it can get tested, tweaked and improved.