For those that don’t know, TouringPlans.com is the website for the Unofficial Guide to Walt Disney World (*ding*). “The Guide” is a favorite among travelers to Walt Disney World, and the Disney online community, especially fans of the WDW Today Podcast. The greatest asset of the book and the site is the sheer amount of data that sits behind them. This is not stagnant data taken years ago that is only somewhat correct, or worse, mostly incorrect. Instead this is a very up to date set of data that is constantly being tweaked, finely tuned, and analyzed by their team to bring to us, the consumer, as accurate an experience as possible.
Back in November of 2009, TouringPlans.com announced a new web based application for the iPhone called Lines. Since that time it has grown to include versions for Android, Palm, and Blackberry devices. At it’s core, it is a means by which, from your smartphone, you can access what is generally the most coveted of all Disney Theme Park knowledge, “How long am I going to have to stand in this line?”
Having been contacted via Twitter asking if I’d be interested to do so, I’ve been using Lines on my iPhone since August of 2009. When I first got hooked up with the app, I started playing around with it at home, being very careful not to enter any data. It looked very interesting, but I was skeptical, and I wasn’t sure of it’s value. However, I scheduled a day, August 22, 2009, to head to the park on a solo trip to test out the app.
Back then the app was slow, not very responsive, and a bit clunky with its dialog action, and was only working for Magic Kingdom – so I was restricted to testing in that park. However, with all that said, some realizations came to me that day:
- the data for the guide is as accurate as they claim
- it’s much more useful to have this data sitting on my phone then on printouts
- the app was perfectly designed for use on an iPhone as it only needs one thumb for use
For eight solid hours I bashed on the app, noting bugs and suggestions in the notes app on my iPhone. That day, I made about 80 entries. I was not cheating, there are several places in the Magic Kingdom where you can stand and see multiple wait times, and I can also hold a few numbers in my head and enter as I walk along. And at the end of the day I was sold on this app.
I remember going home and writing up my experiences and suggestions for the day and sending them off to Henry, Len, and Fred. Henry and I have talked about it many times since, though we only first met in person during Reunion’09. Keeping quiet about Lines and secretly using it in the parks for the next few months was a very difficult thing for me. I wanted to tell everyone about it, stand on rooftops and shout about it, that sort of thing.
Since that time the app has made amazing strides. For starters, its speed has tremendously increased. The dialogs are no longer clunky as they’ve moved to a smoother Ajax “popup” model (apologies to non-tech readers, just read this as “good thing”). But, more than anything else, the user experience has grown leaps and bounds.
There are, as the title of this post indicates, three key user experiences to Lines: Consumption, Contribution, and Gaming. Everyone who uses Lines experiences all three of these, but their use can be tailored through how the app is being used. (note: this review is done from an iPhone perspective)
As I mentioned above, TouringPlans.com and the Unofficial Guide team is all about the data. It’s their lifeblood, and the key thing that puts them well beyond their competitors. When you look at Lines, it’s very clear that their main goal was presenting a large amount of complex data to you in as simple a manner as possible. To do this they break down the data into three levels: location, park, and ride.
The location screen contains some basic information about where you are. Right now there is only one location, Walt Disney World, but I’ve seen an older version of Lines that has more, so I’m sure you can expect them soonish.
That screen looks pretty simplistic right? Now think about all the information it’s telling you about your location:
- Location Name (e.g., Walt Disney World)
- Time and Date
- Available Parks
- Park Hours
- Park Status (OPEN / CLOSED)
- Extra Magic Hours (EMH) status on a per park basis
- Crowd Estimate for the day – this metric comes from the ever popularWalt Disney World Crowd Calendar
- Best / Worst Park for the day
- A way to reach your personal stats (see below)
From the location screen you can select the park you’re interested in for the day. Doing this will take you to the park screen.
The park screen is a bit busier, because it lists out all the park attractions, but it similarly presents the information in a manner that is easy to consume:
- Park Name (e.g., Magic Kingdom)
- Date and Time
- List of attractions for the park
- Attraction wait times in minutes
- Attraction Fastpass status (Gone / Closed / Distribution Time)
- Park Hours
- EMH Status
- Crowd Level
- Viewing (Sorting) Mode (Alpha / Time / Land)
- Access to recently posted times (see below)
- The ability to add wait times (see below)
- A way to refresh the page (reload the web page)
The Viewing Mode can be used to your advantage. It allows you to sort the list of park attractions either alphabetically (Alpha), by wait time (Time), or by Land (i.e., all the Tomorrowland rides would be grouped together). This feature can be extremely helpful in picking your next attraction.
The Recent Times screen allows you to review the times that have been entered for a park earlier in the day. Using it you can see what other Lines users are up to that day. And who knows, you might discover a friend is in the park with you for a meetup.
Each ride can then be selected for a more detailed look at the ride:
- Ride Name
- Actual Standby Time
- Posted Standby Time
- Fastpass Status
- Forecasts for Standby, Peak, and Fastpass depletion
- Submission information (see below)
- The ability to add a wait time (see below)
A user could simply stick to using just these core portions of Lines. Contained in just these three levels of data: location, park, and ride is all one needs to successfully circumnavigate the desired theme park in lieu of having a Personalized Touring Plan from TouringPlans.com. All it takes is a few thumb presses and the app can help you decide which attraction to hit next. But what if you could help out others who were in the park doing the same?
One of the largest growing portions of the online world today is social media. That is the idea of people interacting, not directly, but rather through another medium. Whether this is Facebook, Twitter, or a comment on a Blog or an online news article doesn’t matter – the points is that there is a medium through which to interact.
Lines does that for us through the ability to submit wait times. We’re not chatting (the most common form of social media interaction), but we are using the app to interact in a new way. We’re conversing in numbers, not words – taking the data we see before us, and feeding it back into the application. In doing so we have the instant gratification of everyone else who’s using Lines to see our name, however briefly, listed on the attraction.
This might not appeal to everyone, but to the “Dis Crazed” like myself, to have our names associated with a ride at Disney World is something that we all dream about, even if for only a few minutes or seconds.
You can enter wait times from one of two locations in the app. Either from the individual ride, or from the park screen. The two methods are essentially the same, with one difference, from the park screen you’ll need to select the ride, whereas from the ride screen your ride is already selected.
Time entry is very straightforward, there are just two values to enter. Posted Time is the time you see above the Standby queue for the ride for which you’re entering time. Fastpass Distribution is either the time increment for the current Fastpass distribution, or either Gone or Closed. Gone indicates that Fastpass was opened, and there are now no longer any left. Closed indicates that Fastpass has been shutdown early or was never opened to begin with for the attraction.
Rides that do not have Fastpass will not offer the option to enter Fastpass information. All times are in 5 minute increments. Once you’ve selected your times you just press Submit and your data is entered into the system.
Built into Lines is a very simple game. The more you post wait times, the more you play. The more you play the more badges you get. What are badges? They are a recent addition to the social media world that was taken directly from the concept of video game achievements. There are all sorts of badges, and I’ve noticed some come, and some disappear off my status. I imagine that’s part of this being a beta – things will change.
Here’s a list of some that I’ve received:
- Early Bird (Wait time during first hour of park operation!)
- Park Hopper (Wat times from two parks in one day!)
- No Song Phases Me (5 wait times for it’s a small world!)
- Don’t go losing your head (5 wait times for Haunted Mansion!)
- Hurling Through (5 wait times for Space Mountain!)
- Star Tunnel (Wait times for every attraction in Tomorrowland!)
There are also levels (some that I’ve caught):
- Unofficial Researcher-In-Training (1 wait time submitted!)
- Unofficial Data Collector (5 wait times submitted!)
- Unofficial Honorary Researcher (10 wait times submitted!)
- Unofficial Scholdar! (50 wait times submitted!)
The level names were originally the badge names, but things were shifted around to allow for both. Levels also come directly from gaming, the more you do, the higher your level. The original source being traditional pen & paper role playing games like Dungeons & Dragons. Please note that the exclamation points are all transcribed and not added by me.
In the future, I’m hoping to see still more features for the app. Perhaps Twitter and/or Facebook integration. Geolocation (not sure if this is possible in a web app… yet) or a “Where am I?” type functionality. Maps. Pathing. Etc.
Lines is a very simple, easy to use application that is presenting a large amount of data that has been achieved through a complex means (trust me I’ve had Len explain the process to me) to the user in a way that they don’t get inundated with too much at once. The TouringPlans.com team’s dedication to Unofficial Guide readers and TouringPlans.com users is reflected in the user experience of the app.
If you visit Walt Disney World and have a smartphone you should consider using Lines. Keep in mind that right now Lines access is essentially free due to it’s beta status. It is likely that in the future you will need a Premium account at TouringPlans.com to access Lines, and users should keep that in mind.
Sarah’s Review (@medgirl2001) “Review of Lines, a Disney Wait Time app from TouringPlans.com“
Disclosure: Due to Disney online community involvement, relationships, and my extensive suggestions and bug reporting while testing the TouringPlans.com application, I have been provided with a Premium subscription to TouringPlans.com for 2010. My wife has her own account which existed prior to this exchange.