Location, Location, Location

It’s a matter of Perspective

The Absolute Map

This is the “traditional” approach to a Locator service: the database simply provides a series of maps which are the electronic equivalent of the type of map you might get in a brochure from a tourist agency. They are “absolute” in the sense that they do not attempt to tell you where you are at the moment, although they do give you the tools with which to figure that out for yourself.

The “absolute” map is advantageous because you can use it anywhere – assuming that you can figure out where you are. The weakness of such maps is just that; figuring out where YOU are on the map (and many people have very poor map-reading or “map interpretation” skills).

The Customized Map

This is the highly personalized mapping system which identifies where YOU are and draws all of its maps and directions “relative” to that point. In an even more advanced version, such a system gives you directions relative to some OTHER point which you’ve specified; such as, “I’m here at the Convention Center, but I want to plan my evening. How do I get from my hotel (The Sheraton) to the Eugene O’Neill Theatre, and – by the way – what’s a good Italian Restaurant in that area?

It is also more accessible to the target Tourist population which is largely unfamiliar with the New York region in the first place. And it allows for the generation of personalized map directions on a printout.

The WayBack Connection

This material was extracted – pretty much verbatim – from a proposal I put together in 1986 to supply the (then newly-built) Jacob K. Javits Convention Center in NYC with dynamic messaging and mapping tools.


See the complete proposal (it’s short) at Mapping the Javits

The whole “absolute” vs “customized” (self-centered) approach to mapping seems obvious now, but at the time (1986) it was still fairly novel.  The insight remains central to fundamental me-centricity.


There were two main components to the proposal:

The Room Locator

This supports information “inside” a building or complex of buildings, such as a convention center, a shopping mall, a transportation center, sports arena, or hotel. It is cross-referenced to Event Calendars, Room Locations, Schedule Changes, and Facilities.

(Within a single building or building complex, most information related to schedules, facilities, and personnel directories)

This “locator” was based on the  TCS Environment tool, which had showcased as a fully-featured public self-service kiosk at the Information Industry Association convention in 1985.

The clickable map allows you to navigate from booth to booth.  It was supplemented by additional topical and name-based search tools.

The City Guide

The guide supports information about the city at large. It is “neighborhood-based“, transportation-oriented, and cross-referenced by activities  like Restaurants, Theatre, Shopping, Art Galleries, Museums, etc. The Yellow Pages and Directory Services fit in here.

In the early days of interactive, our “city guide” work was often integrated with directory and yellow pages services.

(Neighborhood-based, transportation-oriented, most information related to specific activities and functions)


This model and metaphor for visual mapping became a mainstay for our interactive design services from early on.


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