What’s wrong with Milan’s Open Data initiative

I spent some time during the last weeks playing with the Open Data published by the City of Milan. I did not have a clear goal in mind, except for building some interesting visualization of the Public Transport coverage of the city grounds.

A quick exploration of the dataset seemed to be encouraging: while most of the data was relatively useless, some datasets were indeed promising and worth spending some time. While at the end of the week I was able to get the result I had in mind (the heatmap you can find in this post), I was left with that lingering feeling of dissatisfaction that accompanies me when I see good initiatives that can be dramatically improved by changing a few specific features. Continue reading What’s wrong with Milan’s Open Data initiative


Wrong direction

In Milan, like in many other cities, public transport tickets have a magnetic strip on the side that is used to check their validity by means of electronic readers.

Even now, some years after the introduction of the new tickets, a lot of people still insert their tickets in the readers in the wrong direction, and can’t pass the turnstiles until they get it right. The technical reason for that is the magnetic strip placed on one side of each ticket so that it can be read by a machine, but it’s a poor design choice forcing people to pay attention to a puny detail such as this.

What is even more frustrating, is that there exists a trivial solution to this problem, and it is the one that has been adopted in Paris: tickets there are symmetrical, and the magnetic band is placed in the middle, so that it can be read in any direction.

A ticket for public transport in Paris
A ticket for public transport in Paris: as a side benefit, it is also quite small if compared to the ones we have in Milan

They did a good job, because they left behind an old convention (having a magnetic band on the side, which probably makes sense with cards you have to swipe) and chose a less common placement, putting less constraints on the experience.