In this era of Google-dominated web applications, it’s a rare find when another competitive service by a much more established company is actually better than Google’s. My wife and I are AAA members. AAA provides a service in which they will map out a road trip for your travel needs. This service is called a “TripTik.” Historically, this has been a service that you call AAA for and they send you a bound, printed copy of your driving plan, like this:
Like any company adjusting to modern times, AAA is moving many of their services to their website at AAA.com. This includes the TripTik service (you can still order a printed copy!).
AAA TripTik vs. Google Maps
One thing I do give Google Maps is the fast, convenient nature of their mapping tool — which is great for short trips and quick directions to that new restaurant or store in your area that you want to check out. For road trips, however, it falls short of the robustness of AAA’s TripTik service.
Google’s UI Advantage:
This post wouldn’t be complete without some discussion on usability and user interface. Google makes it extremely easy to quickly type in your start and end destination. Simply enter in the following:
minneapolis, mn to chicago, il
And voila! Your map is created.
AAA’s UI Disadvantages
On AAA.com’s TripTik, you have to first find the “Internet TripTik” link (small, fairly unnoticeable button…see it? It’s under the “Gas prices near you” tool on the bottom right-hand side of their homepage.):
There is no easy URL to remember like there is for Google Maps (maps.google.com). If there is one, they don’t advertise it, which is a bummer. A simple http://triptik.aaa.com that redirected to the full URL would work wonders! Here’s their full URL:
Next, there’s the interface for entering your “start” and “end” destinations. This is also another usability issue compared to Google Maps in that you are required to type in your city separately from the state (you have to choose the state from a drop-down menu). This is another reason why Google Maps is better than AAA for “quick” directions & maps. It’s much easier to quickly enter a “start” and “end” destination within Google Maps: Type in maps.google.com, page loads instantly, type in “from city, state to city, state” and you’re done. The extra clicks and effort to fill in the AAA TripTik do not make it a viable tool for extremely easy and quick data entry.
AAA’s advantage over Google
The meat of the TripTik service is its ability to map out detailed driving directions, including lodging information, notices on when to expect heavy traffic (when traveling during rush hour through various cities), and road construction details. These are all areas where Google Maps does not provide any guidance.
Additionally, the “printable” version of AAA’s TripTik provides a nicely-formatted PDF specifically designed to be printed on your home computer. Google Maps on the other hand will print like any normal web page would — adding page breaks where it’s most inconvenient. AAA’s TripTik PDF’s have directions in logical chunks so that it’s easy to follow on your road trip. Take a look at the screen shots:
(The yellow boxes indicate road contruction. Also notice the rush hour notification at the bottom of map #2)
AAA Internet TripTik trumps Google Maps for road trips…but not for quick, local trips
With a few minor changes, AAA could actually be a contender with Google Maps for quick, local directions and trips. Longer distances, where it’s important to know where lodging is available, where road construction is, etc. and it’s an excellent tool. I’m willing to look past the usability nuances for the much more detailed information for extended road trips.
Evaluate the usability on your website
Are there any areas like this on your website? Would a simple, easy-to-remember URL benefit your consumers or customers so they can quickly arrive at a tool they use most often (i.e. maps.google.com)? Or do you force them to navigate through your site to find the tools they need?
Subtle changes can go a long way in improving your site’s usability and customer satisfaction. It’s always good to solicit feedback from your web users and do frequent competitive analysis of “the other guys’” sites.