How to make the best out of my first meeting with a web designer.
February 23, 2011 11:38 AM   Subscribe

Help me organize this website idea I have, being technologically impaired.

I would like to start a website that will give bus routes to people in a big city outside of the US. This city has a very chaotic and difficult to understand bus system, and is a major tourist point.

Ideally it would work like the "public transportation" mode of google maps, and would serve as a platform for complaints, fare information, bus details, and connection info. I would also like to have route info on how to get from this city to other popular places in the country by bus.

In other words, it's like a merge between google maps and (for buses rather than trains), applied to a particular city.

to the experienced people out this idea possible? what questions should I ask the designer? What is the logical approach to this project? How much should I expect to be charged? anything else I should know?

Thank you!
posted by Tarumba to Computers & Internet (9 answers total)
Sounds expensive.

You'll probably want to do the mapping with the google maps API, so as to not reinvent the wheel, which will still be a bit of work just to get the stations and routes to draw properly on the map, not to mention doing the actual routing, which is hardly straightforward (see this wikipedia page, this is the problem you're trying to solve). This is mitigated if there already exists a place where you can put in a start and end and be given back a route, but it sounds like such a thing doesn't exist.

This is not basic stuff, and I'd imagine a lot of less-expensive web designers out there don't really even know how to do it.
posted by tylerkaraszewski at 12:06 PM on February 23, 2011

There's also a difference between web designer and web developer.
posted by Brian Puccio at 12:21 PM on February 23, 2011 [2 favorites]

to the experienced people out this idea possible?

Yes but it's definitely not a small or cheap project. You are talking about reinventing Google's bus route planning software as part of it and that alone is a significant undertaking (of course there is always the option of just letting Google do the route planning for you).

What is the logical approach to this project?

You might want to consider planning it out in stages. Have stage 1 be just the must-have features, and leave nice-to-haves for later updates to the site. If you get the core functionality into a working site early you don't have to worry as much about getting stuck in development limbo where the site is never ready to be launched.

anything else I should know?

Remember that websites, especially the one you described, do not maintain themselves. Are you going to be able to pay someone to work on the site for as long as it exists (which could be a full-time job or even require a team of people)?
posted by burnmp3s at 12:47 PM on February 23, 2011

I am partnering up with a geographer, for what it's worth. The routes are fixed, but times are not, which I think would make it easier (buses are available continually).

I could also just start with planned popular routes instead of a route search.
posted by Tarumba at 12:55 PM on February 23, 2011

Yeah, you might want to do version one of the site as a static HTML page with only must-have information. After that start with start/end route points via Google Maps, and later add in the actual routes and intelligent routing.

If there is an API available for the bus routes and times this would simplify the upkeep of the site greatly.

If you want this to be a snazzy singing dancing routing website you may need both a web designer and a web developer who is experienced in routing problems (there are likely commercial packages to do the fancy routing, but they may be prohibitively expensive since they will be targeted at large organizations).

Alternatively if you don't care about having your own site and just want the information to be available, you could try bundling up the existing route information into a Google Transit Feed and get them to integrate it into Google Maps. I don't know if they accept route information from third parties.
posted by benzenedream at 1:07 PM on February 23, 2011

> Remember that websites, especially the one you described, do not maintain themselves.

This was my first thought. I can see you getting it up and running relatively easily, although it would take time, but then you have to deal with changes and updates. Taking a snapshot of a complex system at a given time is very different from maintaining a near-real-time representation of a complex system.
posted by AmbroseChapel at 2:47 PM on February 23, 2011

This sounds you need a web developer/programmer, not a designer.

The web designer (unless they program, too) just makes graphic design of how the web site *looks*. The developer actually gets the gears going.

The idea is possible, but proper execution is going to take a lot of time, effort, and probably money, as well.
posted by xtine at 3:36 PM on February 23, 2011

I agree with others - design is the least of your problems here. The bottleneck, I think, will be getting the bus times. If there's an API for the routes this should be straightforward; otherwise you are looking at some time-consuming and brittle screen-scraping.

Also, I don't wish to be Captain Negative, but the first thing that occurred to me when reading your idea was this: what if you get your site up and running and generating revenue, and then a few months later Google decides to add the public transportation feature for your city (which presumably they will eventually, it's just a matter of time)? Will your site offer improved functionality which will prevent your visitors from jumping ship?
posted by primer_dimer at 1:41 AM on February 24, 2011

Th buses don't really have times. They just "show up" every 2-10 minutes.

I wasn't really planning on making profit, but I see what you mean. I would like to have more of a tourist oriented site that will give tips, fares and how to's. If google had the maps, I think I could complement with other content?

Thank you for your ideas and comments!
posted by Tarumba at 7:21 AM on February 24, 2011

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