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I've been tasked with building a "chooser" website which helps users find a service (or maybe more than one) that helps them solve a problem, in a domain they're unfamiiar with.

Problem

The basic problem we're trying to solve is: there are users who want to do something spatial (map-based) with their data, but they have no idea what tools or services exist, don't know the relevant terminology (geocoding, spatial analysis, different visualisation types etc), and wouldn't know how to get started.

Our target audience is academics in the humanities and social sciences.

Proposed solution

It would basically function like this:

  1. Ask questions about the kind of data they have.
  2. Ask questions about what they are trying to achieve.
  3. Make suggestions about services that might fit, and how they would fit their workflow. Or admit that we don't have any solutions for them.
  4. Also, (optionally, with consent) record their responses so we better understand the landscape.

It would be a heavily curated database, not an open ended service catalog where anything can be dumped.

Is this a good solution?

Now it occurs to me that I can't think of a good example of this pattern. And therefore, I'm skeptical that it even is a good pattern.

In favour of this pattern (compared to, say, a simple list with a filter):

  • The user will need a lot of education in order to answer the questions. Each question is likely to need a paragraph of text to explain the relevant terms.
  • Some questions will depend on others.

Questions

So the question I'm asking:

  • Are there good examples of this pattern? (And if so, what makes them good?
  • What alternative ways of solving this problem might be better?
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What you describe reminds me of either tax preparation assistant (which forms do you need to fill) or visa application assistant (which visa do you qualify for). I never had a great experience with these. Best case scenario, they manage to do the job, but it takes a lot of reading, and sometimes even extra internet searches to clarify definitions or circumstances. This seems to be the same for your website, when you say that you would need "a paragraph of text to explain the relevant terms". Worst case scenario, users give up before the end.

These tools are often de-motivating because you don't know where you're going, what you're going to get in the end.

Could you separate the services into broad categories based on their outcomes? In this case, you could present each of them with visual examples. The user can freely explore them. That would give them an idea of the results they can hope to achieve. For each of them, you can have a mini-assistant "Is this the right solution for you? " where you can ask more pointed questions to narrow down their choices.

I see three advantages:

  • users will have a specific goal in mind, so they will be more motivated to answer questions;
  • they will be more likely to understand the questions, in relation to the final objective;
  • the questions will be more specific, based on the chosen category.

Finally, who is your target audience? Are they general population, or professionals in a specific field? What are their personal or business objectives? Knowing more about them will help you define the categories / use the right words.

  • Thank you. Yes, separating into the broad categories makes sense - I was thinking of breaking them down into stages in a workflow. (Digitising -> Extracting geo data -> Cleaning -> Geocoding -> Analysing -> Visualising). First the user would pick which stage they want to focus on for now. – Steve Bennett Jun 26 '18 at 4:22
  • Have updated question with our target audience (humanities/social science academics). – Steve Bennett Jun 26 '18 at 4:23

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