Layer Control: The plugin version has no layer control available to control the individual impact layers (you can turn them on and off as a group) so you can’t get around the multiple areas problem I outline above. You can control impact layers in the GEarth file but it’s confusing:
there are 6 levels of folders and way too many elements in this folder view. It could be a lot simpler which would improve usability.
Non-Spatial Data and Closing Balloons: In the above screenshot you can see a folder titled ‘background information’ is provided. It’s non-spatial data so it shouldn’t be in GEarth at all – better to link to a set of web pages elsewhere showing the same information and avoid cluttering up the GEarth layers panel.
While I’m talking about ‘Background info’ its sub-folders (even though they don’t have a folder icon, that’s what they are) have pop up balloons with a black background so you can’t see where to click the cross to close the balloon.
Poor Balloon Design: There are a number of issues with the pop up balloons;
IMHO balloons are there to hold extra information (including images or videos) that cannot be presented easily as a traditional map symbol/key system. If you read the actual text in the forest fire example below the information you are actually getting is: ‘high forest fire danger projected to affect every populated continent’. Unnecessarily it then tells you where the areas are that are affected – this is a map, that’s what the polygons are communicating, no need to say it again in text. So there’s little new information in the balloon, it’s interesting to compare with the amount of data you get in placemark
balloons in the Dafur project
The top design is from the Impacts section in the GEarth plugin
, the font is way too large decreasing the total amount of text that can be put in the balloon. Its less of an issue in the GEarth
file with the text more reasonably proportioned, I suspected someone re-used the KML
in the main file in the plugin
without customising it to this different presentation. Kirsty
confirms that this was so and says that she asked for the large font size to ‘give more prominence to the headline messages we were communicating with this map’. My answer is that with smaller fonts you can add extra detail towards the bottom of a balloon without forcing the user to click a link, users will close a balloon happily when they’ve read enough information. Again, the Dafur project
is a good example.
Lack of Design Coherence: The two balloons from two different sections also don’t marry visually, as can be seen above. This isn’t good graphical design, you should have a consistent look across a project (e.g. across all pages of bbc.co.uk). Kirsty explains that this is because the data comes from two different organisations (the Foreign Office and the Met Office) who do very different things (act on science, research science respectively). Kirsty says this difference needs to be ‘absolutely clear[in the mind of the user]’. I can understand that need but if the difference is so important, why isn’t it explained anywhere and why do the different data sets share a map in the first place?
Placemarks in Placemarks: In Google Earth opening ‘FCO Climate Change’ folder and then clicking the Spanish placemark you get an Inception-esque Google map within a GEarth map as captured in the screenshot below. Bizarrely you can open placemarks within a placemark leading to visual confusion.
Temperature Map Key: The temperature map overlay just about works in the original map as there is a key showing what the colors mean. However, in the GEarth file the key has become too small to read (its not available in the plugin). Most users will guess the heat colours corresponding to hot and cool temperatures but a readable key adds value.
Temperature Map Contours: The temperature map has heat contours on it out in the sea. These aren’t labelled and I would predict that most users won’t know what they are so it ends up just cluttering up the view.
I mentioned the fact you can’t compare Australia and the UK at the same time in a virtual globe in the skim review
Talking Heads: The project links to video clips of experts talking about their specialisms within the topic area, they’re presented as talking head with no visual aids. Compare the style with a trailer from Wonders of the Solar system (one of the most successful science series the BBC has had)
Unless you are an exceptionally talented speaker (I’m certainly not) it’s very difficult to maintain a user’s attention as a talking head. Notice in the second clip that you never see Brian Cox against a static studio screen, the BBC are always trying to help the viewer visualise the point he’s making by putting him on location or providing a visualisation.
You don’t need a large travel and/or CGI
budget to achieve this sort visual interest as I hope I showed in my latest climate change talk
as my main visualisation tool.
Kirsty comments that “they just wanted scientists to appear as the ordinary people they are”, that’s an understandable aim but I don’t think it relates to the ‘visual aids’ point I’ve made.
This is not a failure as a project, I think its main positive is that the ‘what happens with 4 deg warming’ approach is a great choice to communicate climate science to the public. However, if the design had been thought through more it could have been a lot better.
I wasn’t a huge fan of the original map version of this project (e.g it had the same area problem) but it was OK. The vast majority of the issues I raise here have been introduced by moving the content to GEarth without thinking through what the pros and cons are of GEarth client/plugin as a presentation tool.