SocMap.com is pleased to announce that we’ve launched the “tweets” and “places” features on our site, and we hope to debut “local initiatives,” “local questions,” and a city-planning game on February 1st.

SocMap, a 2010 Knight News Challenge winner, is building a map-based interface for location-related data such as tweets, local initiatives, local news, public hearings, city-planning games, etc. We want to turn a city into a neighborhood, a place where everybody can see and hear their friends, communicate with each other, and get involved based on their geographical location. The project was started on Jan. 1, 2011.

Here’s an overview of some of the progress we’ve made while beta-testing the site:

How we approached the Landing Page

The landing page is mainly responsible for attracting new users. Here’s what the evolution of the SocMap landing page looks like.

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First Landing Page

  • % of visitors registered to SocMap.com: 5.4%
  • Total attracted users: 46
  • Total users during given period: 46
  • Number of new visitors during given period: 852
  • Total unique visitors: 852
  • Period active: Aug. 1 – Sept. 1 (4 weeks)

Upon being opened, the map was centered roughly on where the user was located. The authorization button was situated on the top left, which took users to the Twitter login window.

This login button was small, hard to notice, and didn’t communicate visitors’ need to log in, so it achieved a poor conversion rate — only 5.4 percent. Additionally, if a visitor was attempting to add content to SocMap, no suggestions of “Please Log In” were displayed, which left many users confused about the site’s functionality and made them leave.

This is how the site looked right after Login function was implemented. This version was not made public and mainly served development purposes and testing by a limited number of experts. During this phase, the site was mainly visited by members of the development team.

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Second Landing Page

  • % of visitors registered to SocMap.com: 7.7%
  • Total attracted users: 95
  • Total users during given period: 141
  • Number of new visitors during given period: 1,033
  • Total unique visitors: 1,224
  • Period active: Sept. 2 – Oct. 5 (4 weeks)

The map was centered on the user’s location according to his or her IP address. Upon entering the site, a welcome window asking the user to log in appeared and displayed a description of key features to motivate visitors to actually press the “Sign in with Twitter” button. In contrast to the first version, the “feed” tab on the left was hidden, though it could still be opened if desired. By opening the feed tab, still unregistered users were shown the login button and SocMap content sorted chronologically. No content was displayed on the map.

Text in the welcome window was too long and not compelling enough, and the window itself was at odds with the overall style of the site. Despite this, however, the highlighted “Sign in with Twitter” button achieved a slight rise in conversion rates (over 2.3 percent), reaching 7.7 percent.

This was our first attempt at making visitors register. Their attention was immediately directed to the login button. Unfortunately, an empty map and this type of window didn’t engage users or stimulate them to register, since it was not made clear what the site is about and how easy it is to register. We were forced to rethink the landing page to make it more attractive and socially engaging.

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Third Landing Page

  • % of visitors registered to SocMap.com: 11.2%
  • Total attracted users: 32
  • Total users during given period: 173
  • Number of new visitors during given period: 286
  • Total unique visitors: 428
  • Period active: Oct. 6 – Oct. 19 (2 weeks)

The “feed” tab was completely hidden, prompting visitors to do just one thing: log in with Twitter. Also, a subtle “follow @SocMap” option was added to allow for feedback and to let users know we care about them as individuals. The Twitter button was supported by an engaging question that could be answered by logging into SocMap.

This type of approach turned out to overshadow what’s important about SocMap — the map, which, if empty, doesn’t invoke any associations in the user. The Twitter button took up the major portion of the landing page’s conversion potential, but didn’t really tell the user why logging in might be a good idea — it just looked like a Twitter ad. This type of landing page raised the conversion rate by 3.5 percent (a 50 percent increase), giving us confidence that we were on the right path. Some browsers had trouble opening this version, but the quirks were worked out, and we proceeded to bring some life to the landing page idea.

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Fourth Landing Page

  • % of visitors registered to SocMap.com: 12.9%
  • Total attracted users: 50
  • Total users during given period: 223
  • Number of new visitors during given period: 386
  • Total unique visitors: 507
  • Period active: Oct. 20 – Nov. 15 (3 weeks) and onwards

On this landing page, the pronounced, blue “Come in” button served the purpose of logging users in. Parallel to it, we enlivened the map interface, and the content creation tab became present from the start. Activities on the map moved the welcome message to the side to allow for better visibility. Users were prompted to log in upon attempting content creation.

This landing page achieved a conversion rate of 12.9 percent and met our expectations.

While the efficiency of the landing page is steadily increasing, lack of new content creation is a cause for concern and has led us to think that perhaps users are given the impression that SocMap provides ready content and doesn’t require user participation. From now on, we’ll pay greater attention not only to the conversion rate, but also to content creation rates.

Not enough activity per registered users

Presently, 224 users have made 403 entries, which would be fine, if most of the entries weren’t created by the developers. Our next goal is for everyone to contribute content.

The functionalities for comments, posts and retweets on the map interface are already there. A few days ago, a notification function that alerts users to activity near them was added as well. But the problem remains: Users don’t create content. Reasons for that might be the copy on the landing page, as well as users perhaps not being sure what to write, who will see it, and what will happen to their message. Maybe we’ve made a mistake in thinking users would be comfortable creating messages on a map.

This is why we’ll try a new approach — perhaps users will use the map interface to get information they need. To do this, we’ll create a Q&A feature that will allow users to learn what they need with the social search method. It will work like this: Users will be able to ask their Twitter and Facebook friends about their neighborhood — e.g., “Where is the most romantic spot in Boston?”, “Where are the best burgers in NY?”, “Which parks in Chicago need cleaning up?”, “Where’s a good place to watch today’s NHL game and drink some beer?”, “Where are we partying tonight?”

We came to this conclusion after studying Twitter content. We’ll experiment with the ability to ask questions and get answers in hopes of sparking a geographically significant discussion. Naturally, all communication will have a geographic reference.

Hopefully, this will start online discussions with a reference to physical space. We’ll see!

Twitter limiting our user base

Even though the conversion rate for new users is high, we strive to increase it even more, especially by implementing a login option with Facebook accounts. It would both increase conversion rates and open SocMap for a far broader user spectrum. Some of the most interested parties (municipalities, government institutions, urbanists, architects) don’t use Twitter as much as Facebook.

Opening SocMap up to Facebook accounts could attract these types of users and create a base of quality content.