This poster was presented at the 2014 DLF (Digital Library Federation) Forum in Atlanta, GA, October 27-29, 2014.


In academic libraries, the rise of web-based mapping applications or web geographic information systems (web GIS) brings great opportunities for information seeking. Users can search spatial information, create customized maps, as well as perform simple spatial analysis with these tools.

In this presentation, we report results from an empirical usability evaluation of major web-based mapping applications, including ESRI Business Analyst Online, PolicyMap, SimplyMap, and Social Explorer. Eighteen university students participated in the evaluation in which they completed tasks of creating a customized map about business-related information (e.g., unemployment rate of an area), changing map display options (map unit, data range, and center location), and exporting maps. These tasks represent the typical workflow of using a web-based mapping application for users without GIS background and experience.

We measured task successfulness, time to task completion, number of times help was needed, number of errors, and participants’ ratings of the System Usability Scale (SUS). Participants’ comments were also analyzed for the evaluation. Results of the evaluation indicated a number of usability issues for each application. Furthermore, we examined the effectiveness of task measures in terms of their predictive power of users’ task performance and usability issues. Our results show that task successfulness and task time are good indicators of potential performance and workflow issues, while number of errors made by participants could provide additional evidence of potential interface design issues. The number of help needed from participants and the SUS rating is less indicative of the differences of applications’ usability.

To the best of our knowledge, this is the first study to evaluate web-based mapping applications from a usability and task performance perspective. Results of the study will be a valuable tool for librarians as well as general users who don’t have a background of GIS and usability to evaluate web GIS resources.


usability, web-based mapping applications

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