Way Finding Easier at maps.ubc.ca

UBC Reports | Vol. 49 | No. 11 | Nov.
6, 2003

A big place just got smaller

By Brian Lin

If you’ve ever gotten lost in UBC’s vast 600-hectare
campus, memorize the following Web address: www.maps.ubc.ca.

The new site, built using PHP and mySQL, two open-source
programming tools, is completely database-driven. The foregoing
tech-talk just means that the site is very easy to update,
an important feature for a campus undergoing more than $600
million in new construction.

Based on the user’s query, a unique Web page is dynamically
generated for every request from a massive database of more
than 500 campus buildings and landmarks.

Users can search by building name, address and keywords
or simply click on any point on a map to zero in on their

The site also allows users to map two locations simultaneously
and displays information on nearest parking, occupants, accessibility,
road closures and even a brief history of the buildings and
locations of pay phones.

For John Lane, who spearheaded the massive revamp, the improvements
represent an ideological shift in the site’s design.

“The idea is to design things to meet the needs of
the maximum number of users, rather than making stereotypical
assumptions about a subset of the population and provide a
remedy especially for them,” says Lane, a physical access
advisor from UBC’s Campus & Community Planning department.

In other words, rather than building a series of customized
Web sites, all accessibility information is available from
one source.

Minute details such as entrance location, names of building
occupants and operating hours give users all the information
they need to access a building. Cross-linkages between other
UBC Web sites, including Student Services’ online course
schedule, means directions to classroom and exam locations
— complete with photos — are just a click away.

“The project isn’t complete yet,” says
Lane. “There are gaps in the data we need to fill and
we are working on the addition of updated main and building
footprint maps. These will provide users with a graphical
view of building entrances and accessibility features,”
he noted.

For the amount of functionality available on the site, the
cost to inventory campus buildings and build the site — at
$21,000 — was quite reasonable, says Lane, who asked UBC
Public Affairs Web Strategist Rob Wilson to develop custom
software to run the site.

“We chose Public Affairs over two external proposals
because they already know how the university systems work,”
says Lane. “They also put together a package that involved
summer students and turned out a site better than we had anticipated,
under budget, and ahead of schedule.”

Wilson’s involvement is part of a Public Affairs initiative
to provide counsel to campus units that are redeveloping or
redesigning their Web presence.

“We try to suggest intelligent, cost-effective, and,
where possible, collaborative alternatives,” says Wilson,
who is working with other campus Web professionals to develop
common tools and standards for UBC Web sites.

More information on Public Affairs’ Web initiatives
can be found at www.publicaffairs.ubc.ca/ubcweb/.