Sunday, March 2, 2014

Good morning, yo

I'm in totally the wrong timezone for following Iditarod.  I went to bed before the start (sorry, all, I just can't bring myself to call it a "restart") and woke up at 4am GMT to a lot of complaints about the new tracker.  But I wasn't interested in the complaints as much as I was in looking to see what friends on the trail were up to, so I opened the tracker myself.

With Trackleaders, the first thing I'd do in the morning was open the race flow chart and get a quick picture of who was moving the fastest, who was resting, who was passing whom, and so on.  What I get with the Iditarod tracker is dots on a map.  This morning I can infer who went out fast by what order the bib numbers are in on the trail (because they left the start in order), but that's not going to last for very much longer.  But nevermind that, how are my friends doing?

To find that out, I had to open up the so-called "leaderboard" and chew up more screen space, then select someone from the list.  Becaause the default sort is by bib number and it's a huge list, to find Mike I needed to click to sort by musher name, then select his name.  A box pops up with basic information, and it COVERS UP THE DOTS ON THE MAP (yes, I'm shouting).

That is to say, the dots on the map aren't even visible.  When I drag the screen around to uncover the dots on the map, is Mike highlighted?  No, he's not, so I cannot even tell with a quick look where he is in relation to everybody else.  So, I go back to the "leaderboard," sort it by name, and get his trail mile.  Since trail miles are not displayed on the map, I need to find him in relation to the pack, which means that now I've got to sort the "leaderboard" by trail mile, which gives me some sense of how to find him (by finding other teams around him, which means looking for their bib numbers - I know, right?).

Mike's running last, so he was easy to find by dragging the map around some more.  Since he's last he's easy to find.  But here's an exercise for those following along at home: find Dan Kaduce.  I'm waiting ...

Find him?  How much clicking and dragging did you need to do to do that?  If you'll recall, with Trackleaders all you needed to do was hover over his name and his dot-on-a-map would bounce, making him very easy to find, indeed.  So basically, at this point in the race the tracker isn't carrying very much information.  I think some of this is deliberate (they really don't want to make it easy for you to spot teams in trouble) but much of it is just lack of understanding of design issues and the software development process.

A digression: I just tried looking at mouseover pop-ups to see if that's a little easier, once you've got trail mile.  It is, but the trail miles are wrong - they're showing a few people further down the trail at lower trail miles - see the screenshot showing Kristy Berington and, uh, somebody whose name is covered up by Kristy's pop-up:

Kristy is shown as being at race mile 36, yet she's ahead of someone who's shown as being at race mile 37.

Iditarod have made some very, very basic user interface mistakes, but because it's their software, they're the ones paying directly to fix every bug, improve every user interface error in the design, answer every user complaint, and so on.  I am pretty sure they had absolutely no idea what they were getting into when they made the decision not to use someone else's software.

And one last screenshot before going back to bed, because if nothing else I'm grateful to Iditarod for such a clear demonstration that the development of production software should not be left to hobbyists:

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