In the months since winning our share of the GeoVation award, the FixMyTransport website has quietly gone live. I say ‘quietly’ because we chose to launch in private beta until we are absolutely certain that every part of this complex website works as it should.
It’s been absolutely fascinating watching the first public transport reports come in, gather supporters, and spread via the power of social media. That is, of course, just what head developer Louise Crow built the site to do, but there are always unknown quantities once software meets actual living, breathing users. Louise is currently being kept exceptionally busy responding to user feedback and implementing suggestions for improvement.
The GeoVation award was, of course, to allow us to add a mobile component to FixMyTransport, and this has mainly fallen to a second of our developers, Dave Whiteland. Thus far, he is deep in the research phase that is vital to any decent application.
This has involved speaking to specialists in the mobile field, a process Dave describes as “useful, especially in the (few) places where they didn’t quite agree”.
The next step was to build a very simple mock-up, focusing on allowing the user to report a problem with as little typing as possible, and with easy-to-press big buttons that Dave hopes will make the report-making process a lot easier when on a bumpy bus or crowded train. This skeleton implementation has already been useful, throwing up some complexities that are better fixed now than way down the line.
A crucial part of the app will be its geolocation component: again, it’s important to get this exactly right if we want people to report problems on the go. Producing a map with a “you are here” marker on it isn’t enough – FixMyTransport aims to do better than that, by proposing not just the nearest station (if you’re on the train), but perhaps also the station(s) you’re most likely to have just come from. We have to think, “passengers are mobile, so what would help most?”
Dave’s also been looking at which parts of the FixMyTransport website are most immediately useful when accessing it via a mobile device – browsing behaviours differ from on a desktop. Therefore it’s likely that the mobile app will signpost different routes through the content.
In all, it’s proving to be an interesting job for the mySociety developers, taking them deeper into areas such as jQuery mobile and responsive web design – and hopefully kitting them out with tools they’ll be able to use in future projects, too.