We put up a nice little Visual Net application a couple of weeks ago that's kind of unusual for us and with a bit more fun factor than your typical enterprise software deployment. Here's a teaser: Twelfth-century lay monks probably built parts of this magnificent stone edifice, incorporating a prehistoric monolith now set in a wall. Other features are a granite fireplace in the lounge and a granite pillar supporting a beam in the dining room. Contemplate these and more while drinking one of three ales drawn straight from the cask: Princetown Dartmoor IPA or Jail Ale, or Sharp's Will's Resolve.
The description is of the charming establishment above, buried in the heart of South Devon (a lovely part of the world) that you as a traveler would never find without the help of some good Web technology.
Our customer is Which? Online, a subsidiary of Which? magazine (yes, the ? is part of the name, it makes conversations about them tend to veer down “Who's-on-first?” rat-traps). Which?, for North American readers, is quite a bit like Consumer Reports, has been around for many years, and now has an ambitious online presence.
Their products include a Good Food Guide, a Restaurant Guide, a Bed and Breakfast Guide, and (my favorite) a Country Pub guide. They (with our help) have combined these on a Visual Net map; you select an area of the country, and what kind of establishment you want to see, and it shows you the ten highest-rated in that that area of the country.
Your chance of finding the Oxenham Arms without this kind of help is approximately zero. You would have had to cook up some sort of a query and pick the results off a list; which could get pretty tedious pretty fast if you wanted pubs and B&Bs but not hotels and were in a part of the country with a complicated name like south Gloucestershire.
For this kind of application (in fact, for lots of kinds of application) queries, well, suck, and point-and-click is better. Which is the business we're in.
This particular application is interesting for us here at Antarctica because we usually work on pure maps of information spaces: library catalogues, unsold inventories, financial instruments, you name it. Of course, there's no reason why the software can't draw maps of, well, maps, and populate them with objects at locations that are, well, real objects at real locations on the map. And this turns out to be useful.
If you're planning a UK vacation this summer, a subscription to this service for a couple of months might be a real good investment. (Nope, we don't get a cut.)