I was pleasantly surprised to learn about the launch of Naqsha.net, a GIS website that promises to provide driving direction and accurate route mapping for major Pakistani cities. Because Google and Yahoo don’t really have good street map coverage outside the US and some parts of Europe, this new site could potentially be a boon to millions of Internet users in Pakistan. So, I set out to do a review. Read on to learn more about my findings.
Initial impressions after visiting the website were poor. The site hasn’t been designed for usability, has a garish colour scheme and is just too busy. Things that should jump out at you – like the registration dialog – don’t.
Registration itself was easy enough. Though an email address is asked for, the site doesn’t actually send you a confirmation that you need to click on. So you could pretty much fake an email address… not that we’re advocating that! By default there is an opt-out subscription to the Naqsha.net newsletter, which we would recommend you opt-out of unless you want more free newsletters clogging your inbox. Companies really have to invent a better, more consolidated way of getting updates to their customers than the old, abused email newsletter.
Once I registered, I selected Lahore in the City pulldown. A pop-up window appeared (bad idea!) that asked me to download the Adobe SVG browser plugin. When I tried to, I got the screen shown below. Since I was using Firefox, I couldn’t use the SVG plugin. I wonder why Naqsha.net chose to use this technology when any number of other options would have maintained browser portability.
Forced to move to Internet Explorer, I did. After an almost 3MB download, I had the SVG Viewer running. Now, I could actually see a map of Lahore city laid out as a vector image (hence the SVG viewer!). The rendering of all the lines and kind of visual interaction, panning, zoom, scroll etc. was extremely slow. Why? Because the vector image is actually being recreated within the browser. This is a completely non standard approach to city map rendering and almost ensures that the end user will have a bad experience. There is a reason why Google and Yahoo simply send images to the browser and not entire vector maps! That’s for the server to internally represent, not for the client to wrestle with!
So far, I was completely underwhelmed with the actual utility and usability of the product. I decided to search for a very prominent location in Lahore, Liberty Market. For anyone familiar with Lahore, you’ll agree that there can hardly be a more well-known destination. Unfortunately, Naqsha.net couldn’t find the market for me, as you’ll see in the snapshot below:
Finally, I figured out that Naqsha was actually not capable of finding pretty much any location in Lahore when specified as keywords. So, I fumbled my way through the messy interface to eventually discover how directions were to be queried. You’re supposed to select a source point on the map and then a destination point. Once you’ve selected these, you click the “Route” button which is meant to provide the best driving directions from source to destination. So, I picked the Airport as the source and a house in Gulberg as the destination. Here is what I got:
Yes, exactly. I got nothing. Fiddling around further, I was able to generate some routes between two close-by points, but the driving directions were almost impossible to understand.
At this point, I abandoned my review. My conclusion? Naqsha.net is a good idea and a rather obvious one. We’ve been waiting for a driving directions site for a while now. However, Naqsha.net has the finesse of a class project and while a lot of work has obviously been done collecting the data, it is far from accurate. Overall, Naqsha.net is completely unusable. A redesign from the ground up would be our recommendation if the proprietors wish to see any success.