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Campus Map – What’s In It For You?

October 10th, 2008 by tamuwebmaster

This is the last post in this series on the campus maps project. Over the week I’ve posted about our goals, the maps portal, the campus map project architecture, and the benefits of and solutions for sharing live data. But what does all this do for you, the average Texas A&M community member? What does sharing data with us offer you? In this post I’ll answer these questions and give some examples of how this system will improve the Aggie experience.The Map Portal

The first place people are going to go is the map portal. This aggregates important information in a single place for fast and easy access. For you, finding information faster saves time, and gives you the ability to make decisions with that information. It also gives people a single place to share information that may get overlooked in some obscure part of the web.

Sharing Data

When data is shared, everyone benefits from the information. When data duplication is removed, everyone benefits from accurate information.  The difference there is critical: outdated information may be worthless information. You, as a searcher for information, benefit when everyone openly shares data. You benefit by being able to make better decisions. You benefit from the confidence that the information is accurate. And you save time by getting all the information you need from one place. Or, if you find it in multiple places, it should be the same information.

Space and Time

Everyone constantly deals with space and time. What, when, and where? The campus maps project aims to assist you in answering those questions. The why and how is left as an exercise for the reader, but what, where, and when can be answered by a feature rich spatial system. We want to consume the “what” from others who maintain the original information, provide a variety of ways for effectively showing where, and possibly add the when as well.

Example 1 – Parking

Parking at Texas A&M is interesting. Depending on the day of the week, time of the day, and special events, parking can be pleasant, or it can be a nightmare. I’ve sat in line for the central campus garage for over 20 minutes before, and it’s not pleasant. I’ve also gotten on campus and into the garage in under 3 minutes. What a difference!

This is a perfect example of where sharing data and enabling a variety of presentations serves a huge group of people. I’m not in the business of monitoring parking lot capacities or planning parking permits. That’s is what the nice folks at Transportation Services do, and without them parking on campus would be a chaotic nightmare. However, they only maintain PDF maps on their site and those do not carry up to date information from the on-campus parking situations. If we combined a feed from Transportation Services relaying information about garage capacity, we could show on the web map which garages are going to be fastest to get into.

Let’s say you are going to the MSC to buy books. If the wait for University Center (Koldus) garage is 20 minutes, and the walk from Koldus to MSC is 5 minutes, you’re looking at nearly half an hour wait time before you can even start your tasks. However, if the map were to indicate that the wait time for central garage was only 2 minutes, and your walk time would be 10 minutes, you shave more than 15 minutes off your wait. Granted I’m skipping some factors (do you really want to walk in the summer from central to MSC?), but the concept is simple. Again, why and how left to the reader.

Finally, as a teaser for what’s to come, what if that same information were available on your mobile phone as you come onto campus? Or a Garmin GPS unit? We could then also factor in your current position relative to the garages and the MSC. Would you be able to make better decisions with that information and medium?

Example 2 – Student  Dining

It can be tough to find food between classes. Not only do you have time constraints, but budgets also play a factor. Sometimes you have to settle for something because it was there at the time and you didn’t know of any alternatives. Can we solve this problem? Possibly…

With GeoRSS feeds from dining services about locations, hours, and menu selections, students could make much more informed decisions. Each day when dining locations across campus decide on their menu, specials, etc, they could publish it via RSS. Our end of the system would add spatial information to the menu RSS feed with a GeoRSS tag, and it becomes available for the campus map. Add our mobile maps site, and students now have the ability to make these decisions on the go. This kind of solution saves time, money, and your diet if you so choose.

If your in a hurry you could choose to go to the closest dining facility, regardless of average cost or menu. Or, if it’s the end of the month and the budget is the overriding factor, maybe a longer walk time is acceptable for a better price. If neither of those are concerns and you just really want that roast beef sandwhich, who has it and how do you get there? The maps application should assist in answering those questions! Now the only question left to answer is “what’s for lunch?”

Example 3 – Game Day

The awe of game day. The town is flooded with people and everyone is excited. There are people from out of town, in town, carpooling, tailgating, camping, and a slew of other activities. All the parking lots change purpose on these days – some for tailgating, some for 12th man ticket holders, some for motorhomes, etc. In two words: traffic mayhem.

Wouldn’t it be nice if the map changed based on the time – regular days show regular information, and game days show information relative to the day, the parking, and the traffic? With feeds from the associated parties (and there are a bunch of them), this is possible. This one is a bit of a stretch purely based on the amount of information and cooperation that goes into making a successful game day. But it’s possible. I’m an optimist who hates waiting on traffic and getting tickets for parking in the wrong lot on game day. I want to avoid traffic, and find a lot that has parking left, instead of driving around aimlessly looking for a spot.

The campus map will be able to switch base layers to show information relative to the game day environment. That means color coded parking lots for specific purposes. That may mean being able to log in and show for which lots your permit is valid. Again, this won’t be possible without some data sharing and collaboration between the map system and Transportation Services. But how much time would it save you, as a “parker”, to look in a single location for that kind of information?

Conclusion

Read these scenarios, ponder the possibilities, and let us hear it. Complain, compliment, collaborate… we want to hear it all.This is not our map, it is the communities map, and it will take the whole community to make it truly shine.

The more information and feedback we get, the better the map will become. If we collaborate and participate as a community, we can make something awesome. With enough participation this system will eventually stand on its own as a solution in and of itself. We could offer it to others who have similar goals and not enough resources. We can raise the bar for universities and web mapping everywhere.

Contact us at webmaster@tamu.edu and make that difference.

Friday, October 10th, 2008 Campus Maps
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