You might not have thought of it this way but the old MapQuest was mostly about driving directions. The new Mapquest (launching today) is about local search and an expanded range of capabilities and use cases.
There’s a new look and feel, a new back end, a single search box and a new “brand.” Mapquest is the number two mapping site; Google having toppled it from atop the mapping throne in early 2009 after years of complacency and “feature neglect” at the AOL-owned property.
But now with a new boss at AOL, fewer ads and a new focus on the consumer experience, Mapquest hopes to build new or renewed momentum. This is what’s new according to Mapquest:
- One-box search for finding directions, maps and businesses;
- Enhanced My Maps with a simplified login process using existing services (AOL, OpenID, Yahoo, Google, Facebook and Twitter);
- The ability to easily save and customize information, including My Maps trip itineraries, and share it with friends via social networks, including: Facebook and Twitter;
- Ways to plan and personalize travel with notes, anecdotes, landmarks and short cuts; and
- Integration of Patch’s directory information into MapQuest’s search results (e.g. restaurants, stores, government offices, local services, parks and schools).
The new Mapquest (the lower-case “Q” is intentional) looks like this:
The graphic immediately above depicts “360 View,” Mapquest’s answer to Google Street View and Bing Street Side, which debuted at the end of last year.
There are some nice search features that neither Google nor Bing offer on their mapping sites. Users can search multiple times within a map and see all the results layered or plotted in different colors simultaneously: e.g., movies, pizza, ATMs, parking. There’s also a bar that provides one click access to popular local search categories on the map: e.g., restaurants, cafes, retail, etc.
Under CEO Tim Armstrong AOL has put renewed emphasis on local (e.g., Patch) and I asked Mapquest GM Christian Dwyer whether the company recognized the importance of Mapquest and its role in AOL’s local strategy. He said yes (what’s he going to say?) and that there would be new energy and focus on the property as part of this larger strategy. I hope for AOL’s sake that’s all true.
The company is updating all its mobile apps, including its iPhone app, in the near future as well.
The simplification of search on Mapquest and the better-looking map should help defend the site against its better-funded rivals. However it’s unclear whether any of these changes or feature upgrades will strike people as interesting or novel enough to win back some of the lost usage from Google.