Site icon Alan Mather – In The Eye Of The Storm

Can Government Do Beta? Travel News

201002022235.jpgThe most popular paid-for application in the iTunes Application store (a tie in to the recently released Modern Warfare 2 game) has been reviewed 406 times. Nearly as many people love it (138, 5 stars) as hate it (153, 1 star). For an application to get to the top of the list, I’m guessing it must be downloaded thousands of times, perhaps even tens of thousands (and MW2 has sold millions so that’s easily possible in this case). So it’s the unspoken thousands who don’t give their view that have got it to the top of the list.

The top free application, Lego Photo, has received 3,690 reviews for the current version. In this case, 699 people love it and 1581 hate it. So you can get to the top of the charts even with a 1:2 skew of love:hate. Again, doubtless tens of thousands of people have downloaded this and said nothing.

Which brings me to’s Travel News application, number 20 in the list of most downloaded free applications. The current version has 1009 ratings, with only 84 loving it and 542 hating it. For all versions, the total skew is worse: 192 loved it and 1316 hate it. If you were to count one and two stars as hating it and four and five as loving it with the three stars unable to make up their mind, then just over 300 loved it whilst 1700 hated it, still a 1:5 love:hate ratio.

The text of the reviews is generally scathing – comments about it having no information outside of London, or defaulting to London information are common; there are reports of crashes, poor performance; requests for the raw database. There are even suggestions that the positive reviews are “developer planted” and a comment that “Gordon Brown must have written this”.

I’ve tried it out and it’s true that there are some glitches but it largely does what it’s supposed to do. On opening, the app asked to use my location and then guessed that I was in the “Yorkshire and Humber” region – that’s the developers trying to overcome the accusation of London bias perhaps.

Correcting that and asking to do a search for all transport problems of all types in London produces a huge (hundreds?) cluster of pins in London, as you’d expect – it’s a big place, there are bound to be problems. But clicking the location button zoomed right in to where I live, and then you can pinch to zoom out and see what’s happening nearby. Is this what people want from an app?

I don’t know – perhaps I’d be more interested if I could do a “from/to” entry and it would tell me how screwed up planes, trains and automobiles were along my route. And I’d certainly like a “time sorted” feature – that is, what are the issues right now (as opposed to seeing that there was going to be night maintenance on the M4 later in the week).

On my wireless network it certainly wasn’t the quickest application I’ve used but, then again, it’s searching across a wide area and I rarely need to get instant information on traffic problems and so would be content with a slight delay. Filtering to issues right now, within a radius of where I am – or just along my “from/to” line, would perhaps speed things up.

Just to be sure, I checked traffic conditions in “Yorkshire and Humber” and it seemed to know what was happening there – don’t travel on the A161 near Scunthorpe, it’s closed at Epworth.

It was in May last year that I looked to see which governments were doing iPhone apps, and challenged to get theirs into production. So they’ve responded – not because I challenged them of course, but because it’s inevitably the right thing to do (any platform with millions of users must surely see government presence – and there are already versions of this app for other platforms such as Android). And they’ve picked travel information, which is an obvious thing to do given that when you’re out and about you’re unlikely to suddenly think about whether you can claim benefits.

So what next?

Not a bad first attempt team. I hope the torrent of feedback hasn’t put you off and you’ll keep fixing the bugs, iterating the app and showing that you can respond quickly to that feedback.

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