Professor Christopher Le Dantec
LMC 2700 Introduction to Computational Media
17 September 2012
Map My Run as a "Productivity" Artifact
Interaction design, in all forms of new media, plays an integral role in the advancement of computer applications. This relationship between human and computer is vital to the success of applications designed for public use. Such productivity artifacts serve primarily in assisting users in performing a task. The intended outcome when creating these artifacts is to simplify any activity; however, as technology develops often times this goal is forgotten and replaced by complicated new features. The online service Map My Run delivers a specialized mapping tool targeted towards the running community. Its main purpose lies in helping runners plan and record workouts. Over the course of the site’s development it has become a more all-encompassing workshop that promotes the use of several additional tools, some of which compromise the performance of the existing set of services.
The current model of Map My Run conveys a powerful sense of agency by providing users with the ability to not only create their own routes, but also share and connect with other runners. The running community involves a large group of people nationwide and is cultivated by web-based services similar to Map My Run that allow runners to contact each other. In the current socio-technological era, this model is akin to many other web providers’ desire for increased user interaction in conjunction with the proliferation of social media. In order to preserve this aspect of agency through social interaction, Map My Run incorporates the Facebook user experience into their website. Upon entering the web site, the user is bombarded with requests to “Join free today!” and buttons affording for easy access to logging in through a Facebook account. Proven by the image below, the site’s layout is very inviting for new users, but caters less to the experience of existing users.
Despite this emphasis on the sociability of running, the web site constrains users’ ability to meet new runners through their service. Map My Run’s concept of “friends” is only defined through the limitations of each user’s set of Facebook friends. Its purpose is confined to the acquisition of friends that you already know personally, cutting off the ability for new runners to interact with veteran runners. These aspects of the site lead to a reduced level of user interactivity.
As Map My Run continues to grow, it encompasses a broader range of purposes not limited to the site’s primary function of saving mapped routes. The changes that developers have made are an attempt to incorporate more components into the site’s interface. While adding features like those displayed in the above image, they have risked lowering the overall functionality of the website. Numerous users feel passionately about these changes and how they have affected their use of the site. In response to a recent update in early 2011, several people made their opinions heard by posting in a forum of a related website, Runner’s World, saying, “I love when web sites ‘over simplify or over improve’ to the point where it is non-functional” and “I can't seem to use it at all anymore”. These frustrations prove that some of the features that Map My Run has supposedly updated are not as effective as the designers had intended and in fact actually inhibit the pleasure of navigation.
The affordances of the website design encourage the usability of these available social features and more. By means of drop down menu bars, runners are prompted with additional choices including “find a new place to run”, “find an event to do”, “start a training plan”, or “join a group to run with”. Menus are a beneficial technique used to organize information and give the user a better understanding of the site’s features. Based off the perceived affordances of the current web model, runners can immediately interpret the designated use for the overhead tabs. Each tab intuitively provides further access into Map My Run’s abundant running tools. This set of perceived affordances establishes a relationship between the user and the environment as well as encourages a sense of human-computer interaction. The Map My Run web development team uses careful mapping of the site’s space in a way such that the perceived affordances mentioned prior would match the site’s actual affordances.
All improvements in productivity related computing replace a pre-existing action in hopes that it can be made simpler through technology. As its name suggests, Map My Run facilitates the already seemingly out-of-date process of reading physical maps. The actual action of viewing of a map in physical versus digital space differs only slightly. This is because when computer mapping systems were developed it was essential that they retain many shared properties with traditional maps in order for people to easily understand and translate prior knowledge of map reading skills. In certain cases applications of new media replace traditional methods of performing tasks in ways that limit the original aspects of the activity. Map My Run achieves a balance of efficiency between the new and the old methods without offsetting any assets of non-digital mapping. The site builds upon traditional spatial mapping and allows users to generate and store an unlimited amount of running maps, an impossible action prior to the realm of online mapping.
Map My Run makes effective use of its allotted features to aid people in the creation of maps. Despite its relative success, Map My Run is a service that is indentured to the dynamic nature of web development, meaning it must constantly change to accommodate future discoveries. At the same time, running is an athletic activity requiring constant movement; therefore it seems purposeless to have a service only accessible through a computer’s web browser. To combat the challenge that the mobility of running presents, Map My Run has released an app for iPhone and Android users that creates more of a “free play” atmosphere. Members of the website can download this app for free and have information from their online profile with them while they run. This significantly increases the value and performance of Map My Run services creating a more intimate connection between human and computer device. This relationship solidifies Map My Run’s online presence as simplifying and providing a viable alternative to the traditional means of mapping.
Consider a computer "productivity" artifact of your choosing. Examples of productivity artifacts include email clients, word processors, messaging clients, photo editors/managers, (certain) websites, and so forth. Then answer the following questions in an essay of approximately 1000 words:
What are the affordances and constraints provided by the designers? Do those features work well? Why or why not?
How does the artifact encourage and constrain user interaction? Consider the different ways the user has a sense of agency.
Then consider the actual activity the application is designed to facilitate (e.g. writing, drawing, conversation, etc.). How do the two compare? Are there aspects of the non-digital versions of the activity lost in their translation into a software program designed for "efficient" use? If so, how so? If not, defend that position.
What changes or entirely new approaches to the design of your chosen artifact could you imagine that would introduce greater "free play" into the experience of using it? Why would such a change be desirable? How might they change the computational version of the actions the software performs?