Mapping space and time

Earlier this afternoon, you arrived in an unfamiliar city. Now you want to get out and do some exploring. Where’s an art gallery? A bookstore? A coffee shop?

On a display board at a bus stop, you find a map of the city with points of interest marked. With a little effort you find an interesting-sounding gallery and see that it’s eight blocks west.

The map in front of you describes physical space. Wouldn’t it be nice if the map answered one more question: How long will it take me to get there?

You’re looking to take a trip, not just through space, but through space and time.

You need a time map. Peter Liu, whose company is called Mapbox, is working to design one for you.

As Peter points out, time maps aren’t new. He even found one from Melbourne, Australia, that was used a century ago. But today’s software creates lots of new possibilities.

Melbourne time map

Travel times from central Melbourne via rail, 1910-1922 (source: Peter Liu)

Check out Peter’s time maps for yourself. I especially like the one that changes based on whether you’re walking, riding a bicycle, or driving a car.

Maps are one of my favorite forms of technical communication. Maps have been around for so long, however, that it seems like we already know everything there is to know about making them.

That’s why the time map caught my attention: it’s a new way of looking at something old and familiar.

What do you think? Will we see more time maps in the future? Can they change the way we interact with the world around us?

3 thoughts on “Mapping space and time

  1. Vinish Garg (@vingar)

    So for instance, a Medium post tells us how much time (in minutes) I may take to read it.

    In tech comm, can we run a few use cases to figure out how much time users may take to complete a task? We should not really focus on “reading time” because there may be related (previous/next, others) topics that users may need to see to complete the task. For example, a time element with the intent/meaning as “For the first time, you can approve a non-verified invoice in 15 minutes. Every next time, you can do it in 6 minutes”. It means that it is a valid statement regardless of whatever step/screen the user is stuck and is seeking help.

    It also means that if a user (who is reading this help topic) thinks that they have taken 20 or 25 minutes to complete that task, there is scope to do it fast and more efficiently.

    PS: And so, ‘time saved for users’ adds to the metrics for content ROI.

  2. Larry Kunz Post author

    Thanks, Vinish. That’s a great idea, putting the time-to-complete on a task. Not only would the user know that it could be done more efficiently, they’d also know, prior to beginning the task, whether it fits into the time available. (Will I be able to complete this task before lunch?)

    I know I’ve seen time-to-complete values in some instructions — though I can’t right now remember where. I also know that I’ve been skeptical of them, much as I’m skeptical of the “copying – 2 minutes left” messages in Windows. If we can include reasonable, reliable time-to-complete values in our tasks, our users will benefit greatly. And, as you say, we’ll have a good metric for content ROI.

  3. Pingback: Mapping space and time – Technical Writing World

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