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I'm trying to localise an app for the US. The app shows a list of places with distances that are relatively close, so either walkable less than a 10 minute drive away. Currently if the distance is over 1km then I show the distance in metres, so the list looks like this:

  • 100m away
  • 1.1 km away

What do you think makes sense for the US? Should I switch down to yards or feet or both and where does it make sense to make the switch? I know that it's common in the US to use a quarter mile as a distance, so maybe it makes more sense just to use miles that can be a fraction, so 0.2 mi.

US people, please help me out!

  • 4
    I'd avoid decimal places with the Imperial System. Whilst a "quarter mile" might be well understood, 0.25mi would probably confuse most people used to that system of measurement. Furthermore, the units of measure most people use is a small subset of the available Imperial units (few would know what a chain or furlong is). – Bernhard Hofmann Jul 18 '16 at 9:24
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    @BernhardHofmann Maybe I'm misunderstanding your comment, but as a US citizen, 0.25 miles is not at all confusing. – maxathousand Jul 18 '16 at 14:39
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    I've noticed that compared to the UK, yards aren't used much in the US. We'd say 100 yards, but Americans would be more likely to say 300 feet. So I'd forget about yards which may simplify things a little. – Chris H Jul 18 '16 at 15:13
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    @BernhardHofmann, I'm with max, .25 miles isn't confusing at all and is something that we see consistently in our navigation systems, fitness apps and on google maps. Not to mention what we use in general conversation. – Ryan Jul 18 '16 at 18:06
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    @LorenPechtel, what on earth do you mean by that? "yards are a measurement of size, not distance." A yard is 3 feet. 36 inches. 91.44 centimeters. – Wildcard Jul 19 '16 at 20:57
40

If you're dealing with geographical distances, just use miles. We never think of towns being X feet or yards away from each other.

Our street signs (and mapping apps, etc.) show decimals, so that's a good way to handle fractional miles. Even under a mile we're used to seeing distances like 0.2 miles. (One decimal place is usually enough.) Even when things are just a short distance from each other, I'd still use decimal miles. Just round the number to the nearest 0.1.

[Edit: It's not uncommon to see road signs that use fractions. My memory's been influenced by Google Maps.]

(Set your Google Maps to US measures and see what it does.)

Fractional distances like "a quarter mile" are used more conversationally: "She lives a half mile from me." But you don't see that usage on highway signs.

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    I often see fractional distances on highway signs in the U.S. 1/4, 1/2, and 3/4 miles are all very common where I am. See something like: i.imgur.com/46Oa90U.jpg . Indeed, seeing "38th Street Exit 0.2 Miles" would look very out of place to me. – turbulencetoo Jul 18 '16 at 13:41
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    Just want to point out that Google Maps uses feet for distances less than 0.1 miles, but otherwise behaves as you described. – Kris Harper Jul 18 '16 at 16:55
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    For the most part I agree, but I think feet is fine to use for precise directions (think turn-by-turn GPS navigation) in amounts less than 500 or so. Otherwise, miles all the way. Most U.S. cities have a standardized block size as well (a Chicago block is 1/8 mile) so most people have a good idea of what 0.2 miles roughly is in terms of some physical like a block. – Nathan K Jul 18 '16 at 18:49
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    There are a lot of signs that say "in 1000 feet" or something like that. – enderland Jul 19 '16 at 12:14
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    And "¾ mile," "½ mile," "¼ mile," are extremely common on highway signs where I am (I make regular trips between NYC and DC). There's even a "⅕ mile" near me. I don't see decimals on signs very often at all. – KRyan Jul 19 '16 at 12:37
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I have noticed a soft crossover from mi to feet on street signs around 1000ft (0.19) I say its a soft crossover, because you will see things like 0.1mi, but its much more unusual to see distances longer than 1000ft rendered in feet.

I've seen very few signs use yards, although I can't say if that's universal.

  • 1
    Based solely on my personal recollection as an American, I believe that feet are usually only used on smaller roads to serve as a warning about something upcoming that you should prepare for (usually a stop sign or light or other similar potential hazard). – jpmc26 Jul 19 '16 at 20:43
  • You will see feet used by GPS devices (and Google Maps which is basically the same thing), but not for anything longer than 1000 ft. – Kevin Jul 20 '16 at 2:11
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For walking distance I would use feet. If it was 100 feet away would you really want to say 0.02 miles? On driving direction they say turn right in 100 feet. Google maps detail does feet up to 1000 and then flops to miles.

  • Agreed: I'm used to seeing feet in units up to the hundreds. Although a yard is close to a meter, yards are very rarely used, although there are certain areas in life where yards are used (perhaps most famously thunderblaster's example of American/Gridiron football). Anything over 1,056 feet is over 0.2 miles so switching to miles may be good then. If you can also show meters, you may help people be comfortable with both customary/imperial (miles) and metric (meters). If you can't, just ditching the meters will be most comfortable for most Americans. – TOOGAM Jul 20 '16 at 1:40
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First of all, in the US, for measuring lengths and distances, people are more familiar with "inch, foot, yard, and mile" and if you don't want your users to struggle through the app, then do use these units. But to provide a better UX you can provide an additional feature of changing the units as per the convenience by setting the local units as default.

Secondly, it depends on the time it takes to update the user's distance from the destination. Like if it is fast enough and with normal network connection it can update after every 10 yards lets say then go with the non-decimal part(176 yards instead of 0.1 mi) and if it is not dynamic or for some reasons it takes time to update the distance then go with the decimal part(0.1 mi instead of 176 yards).

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    As a lifelong US resident, I find measuring anything other than football field distances in yards odd. I would expect most distances to be measured in either feet or miles. – thunderblaster Jul 18 '16 at 15:44
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    @thunderblaster true, but they're still more commonly used than hands, links, rods, chains, furlongs, fathoms, cables, etc. – Dan Neely Jul 18 '16 at 18:40
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    @DanNeely most people in the US do not know the US system very well. Standing in the kitchen I have had numerous women who have cooked all their lives ask me to convert pints to cups or quarts or whatever. Familiarity ("That's a cup!") does not translate to ability to manipulate measures. Tripling a recipe is right out. – user67695 Jul 18 '16 at 20:09
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    @nocomprende yup a standard Barley Corn is exactly 8.46666... mm long, just like a Standard Human Foot is 30.48 cm long; just like a Standard Earth has a circumference of 40,000,000 meters. – Dan Neely Jul 18 '16 at 20:55
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    @DanNeely My foot is longer than most people's, but if you measure me with my own foot, I am normal height. See? It all just works out. Relativity! – user67695 Jul 18 '16 at 20:57
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Giving miles is better option but you can provide flexibility to the user

Like he can choose between km and miles for distance greater than 1 km and yards/km/miles for shorter distance < 1 km

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    I think this the best option. Let the user decide. It isn't much extra trouble and it buries the issue forever. – user207421 Jul 20 '16 at 5:43
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This is incremental, but I'd only reserve yards for walking distances, and only for numbers that can be easily rounded to a multiple of 100. An American football field is 100 yards long, so it's a familiar point of reference. And it's not uncommon to hear statements like "wind turbine with blades two football fields long".

  • As an American who isn't into football at all, I had no idea a football field is 100 yards long. I suppose that's worth remembering, but I'll probably forget it. – Keavon Jul 20 '16 at 3:54
  • @Keavon so also remember that a non-American football field is 100 meters long. It all just works. – user67695 Jun 7 '17 at 14:01

protected by Community Jul 20 '16 at 8:58

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