We started our day to the launch of the new Digital Addressing System – GhanaPostGPS. A system, news of which we’d been given over the past few months.
I took it for a spin to see what all the fuss was about. It was pointless.
GhanaPostGPS is a glorified location sharing service that fails to be that by erecting barriers to user interaction. It is technically underwhelming with a poor user experience and many amateur mistakes.
Now, don’t get me wrong, I am not saying a digital addressing system is pointless, but that the current implementation is poorly designed, ineptly built and has no chance of yielding anything close to the results it has been touted as capable of bringing. Coming to that, how exactly is this going to help revive Ghana Post again? Has the problem really been addressing? Or an institution that has failed to recognize that it is a dinosaur that needs to evolve to survive? Or that people simply don’t trust it with their valuables? Maybe a combination of all 3 and more.
A Disappointing Start
For the kind of resources that were given to this project, one would expect a refreshing design, some nice layout animations, properly thought out user experience and a proper understanding of how the system is supposed to deliver value.
Instead, we are greeted with a less ugly pallet swap of AsaaseGPS, with new graphics, text and a splash screen animation (I really hope you guys are already resolving my location because that splash screen lasts a long time) that does a bad job of explaining how and what it is you are to do after generating your address. The menu items are confusing and there are UI elements that make no sense. In fact, the menu toggle is on the right and the nav drawer on the left!
I launch the app and immediately, I am assaulted with a sign-up screen. Ummm, what?! Why do you need to know who I am? I look around for a link to terms and conditions which would at least inform me how they plan to use my information, nothing.
I go and download snooCode (another Ghanaian app that literally does the same thing) and within 30 seconds (location services are always on), I have my six character address. It might not be beautiful, but it makes sense. Less is always more.
I don’t want to give my information out, so I figure, hey, let’s see if we can bypass this. I enter some gibberish and submit, half expecting it to reject my input but no! It accepts it like it is made of gold.
Now I really don’t want to give my details out. At the simplest, all you need to do is to check if the input is 9-10 digits (10 for a leading 0). There’s more you can do, but short of actually testing the number, this check should suffice.
A Broken System
At this point, I have lost confidence in the system. These are signs of either an inexperienced or lazy programmer. Either way, the system cannot guarantee data quality or security.
I decide to risk it anyway and use my secondary SIM card to register an account to get the full experience.
In addition to generating your address (showing an unhelpful dialog about a missing address mapping), you can search for locations, save locations to your address book and send your location to emergency services (Police, Fire & Ambulance).
I obviously couldn’t test the emergency services, but saving to the address book worked while searching for the location they generated for me didn’t yield any results.
I suspect both this and the dialog at the point of generation require me to register my address first, but nowhere is this made apparent to you. Existing systems like snooCode don’t require you to do this. The generated address can be translated into geolocations easily and used to locate you. This doesn’t bode well for user experience.
I decided to try the map on the website and sadly that didn’t work either. There was no map and a quick look at the debugging console showed that Google Maps was throttling API calls.
GhanaPostGPS like snooCode, what3words, and Open Location Code is a geocoding system that converts hard to remember latitudes and longitudes into an easy to remember format. It creates 5x5m grids and assigns a code to each grid so addresses remain constant within the grid.
While this system makes it easy to address any location on the surface of the earth with an easy to remember code, it doesn’t translate well when used as addresses. A single property can easily span multiple grids and therefore will technically have multiple addresses.
All the above existing systems bill themselves as location sharing services (nowhere is this clearer than in what 3 words). GhanaPostGPS with its unnecessary barriers causes it to fail at being even that.
A proper addressing system would have accounted for anomalies such as large properties and implemented a separate registration process (which could involve marking out your boundaries) for businesses and interested individuals. Many people really could care less. Most codes will be generated on the fly to give directions to friends to meet up or for events such as weddings and the like. Most use cases of this system would not even require one to register an address.
Today, any competent smartphone user can easily share their location over WhatsApp and get turn by turn directions in Google Maps. Why would anyone want to use this? What is its differentiating feature?
Tech is tech. And this is 2017. People will use what pleases them whether the government throws millions at a solution or not. And right now, this looks like money poorly spent! You simply cannot will people to use what they don’t like.
I believe more should have been done by Vokacom to translate AsaaseGPS into a true addressing system for the nation. They were definitely given the resources. $2.5 million is not a sum to laugh about.
Government officials have no understanding of how tech works and thus, as the consulting firm in charge of developing the system, Vokacom had every responsibility to ensure that it was delivering the best. This was our first opportunity to prove to the world that we can do homegrown and we blew it!
This is a sad day for tech in Ghana.
Also published on Medium.