One of the primary concerns in this project for me are barriers to adoption, ie. how we can make an easy to use, fun online environment for users to learn spatial concepts. This concern also motivated me to develop another research project looking at usability in OpenStreetMap, that I am currently working on, which has profound implications for the design of this project.
Altough OSM is thriving, 70% of visitors who open an account do not go on to make a single edit to OpenStreetMap. To investigate why this is the case, we analysed through eye tracking and screen capture ten OSM novices through their first experience registering, adding and editing information to OSM. You can catch a brief peak into the first results in another blog post I did on my personal research blog, at spatialknowledge.eu.
OSM is an interesting case study of geo web usability because of the fact that users do not simply consume geo data, but are actively engaged in creating and editing new geographic data, resulting in much more advanced spatial learning challenges, including different spatial data types (point, line, polygons), how to define attributes and ontologies, dealing with different data layers and even advanced GI concepts such as topology.
A basic example you can see in this video below, which highlights the importance of putting common web interaction elements where users expect them. In this case, the Search functionality's position is the last place the user is looking, when it is one of the most common used functions.
The finished research will highlight not only specific usability problems that the OSM project currently has in engaging and supporting their user community, but also give a fresh view of the way non expert GIS users approach and interact with spatial data consumption and creation. This research then should give this project a profound insight into how non-experts approach and understand geo data and concepts, and how this can be translated into usable and engaging interactions and interfaces.