Yesterday I discovered Google’s new “Street View” by chance, looking for directions, and blogged it, before it was officially announced and before I’d had a chance to talk to anyone at Google. At Where 2.0 yesterday I spoke to John Hanke, Google Maps GM, after the official announcement about Street View and some of the new functionality, which includes “Mapplets” and transit information.
As most people know at this point, Street View offers 360 degree views of storefronts and outdoor areas that are being developed and cataloged by Google itself and a partner, Immersive Media. Right now there are only five Google cities that have Street View with many more to come. Immersive Media, for example, has this footage for 25 cities.
As mentioned yesterday, Microsoft has had its Street Side photography (San Francisco and Seattle only) in “preview” mode for more than a year but has not rolled it out more broadly to other cities or to its Live Maps site. And the pioneer in this area, A9, completely abandoned its Block View storefront photography when it shuttered its yellow pages more than a year ago. That now looks like a foolish mistake.
The entire Where 2.0 show is essentially a showcase and conversation about visualizing or putting geospatial data layers onto maps. It’s a gathering of developers interested in exploring possibilities and “cool” applications and there’s very little discussion of “monetization.” It’s in that context and spirit that Google announced Street View and Microsoft announced the extension of 3-D mapping to New York and other cities and MapQuest announced its ActionScript API. These companies (and Yahoo) are all pitching and competing to be the mapping platform of choice for third party developers and mashup builders.
Accordingly Google’s Mapplets announcement was also very interesting. Analogous to Google Gadgets for the Desktop or iGoogle, it allows developers to build mini-mashups that reside within the Google Maps environment. So there’s a syndication opportunity for third parties there, but, more importantly, it opens up Google Maps to all kinds of possibilities that take it beyond more traditional uses of online maps. In this sense it’s very much in alignment with what Google has been doing with Earth, allowing third parties to create KML layers.
Another less publicized feature of what Google rolled out yesterday was perhaps the most immediately useful new tool: transit schedule information. In the major metro areas, public transportation icons now appear. Clicking the icon either provides a transit schedule or a link to a site that offers scheduling information.
Maps and mashups have captured the imagination of developers and, to some degree, the public at large. A microcosm of the competition in search, we’ll continue to see rapid innovation and development of new capabilities and features on maps. And the fierce competition between Google and Microsoft in particular (as platforms) is helping push maps into interesting new areas they’ve never gone before.