Desktop Geographical Information Systems (GIS) are not user friendly they require time and effort to learn and remember. They are not intuitive and for new learners the first time they are faced with a GIS can be overwhelming experience, where do you start? These difficulties are nicely summarised in the user interviews I have been conducting.
One of our specialist users described their first and so far only encounter with a GIS. They were looking to just explore what the software could do – without being able to dedicate any real time to learning it. They successfully downloaded some geographically referenced data from Digimap (it was actually MasterMap). They then started the GIS programme and spent 5 to 10 minutes trying to open the data that had just obtained, in that time they did not succeed to open the data so they gave up and made their map in Photoshop. They found GIS too difficult to use. From a usability perspective this represents an issue in learnability. The design of the desktop GIS meant that the new learner failed in the first hurdle- adding existing geographical data to a map.
The notion that desktop GIS are hard to use is not new. More than 15 years ago in 1995 Traynor and Williams discussed the issues of usability in GIS presenting a paper with the title, "Why Are Geographical Information Systems hard to use?" at the annual ACM conference on Human Factors in Computing Systems.
Today, desktop GIS are still just as difficult to use!! The interface design really does not make them easy to learn. Will this change as the development of VGI web-mapping interfaces progresses since they rely on contributions by the general public?