Gizmodo, in something of a tongue-in-cheek post, compares the cars and cameras Google is using to capture its StreetView imagery with those being used by Microsoft for what has been known as StreetSide. StreetSide is a Live Local product that predated Google’s StreetView but has been limited to San Francisco and Seattle. What this post suggests, although I’ve yet to confirm this with anyone officially, is that Microsoft is expanding its StreetSide program beyond the two cities — perhaps in response to StreetView.
Opinions are mixed about the utility (vs. novelty) of street-level photography. I believe it’s quite valuable under certain circumstances and in a range of use cases. However, there are privacy issues (not necessarily legal, but psychological) that have been written about quite a bit. Regardless of these concerns, there is competitive momentum building toward mapping products that offer a range of imagery and capabilities: aerial photography, 3D images and street-level photography.
Of the four major mapping competitors — AOL/MapQuest, Google, Yahoo and Microsoft — Google and Microsoft are clearly investing much more heavily in these “next generation” mapping tools. Google, right now, arguably has the most diverse and feature rich platform (including StreetView, Mapplets, My Maps, custom routing, etc.), with Microsoft not far behind. Microsoft has invested heavily in 3D mapping and has advanced automated rendering technology that allows it to roll out 3D cities very rapidly.
AOL’s MapQuest has historically argued that these “whiz bang” advanced features are not “mainstream” and that is the market it’s focused on. For the time being, it remains the traffic leader.
Yahoo, which was the first of the major engines to launch interactive mapping tools, with “SmartView,” has declined to make the same investments as Google and Microsoft in 3D or street-level imagery. However Yahoo has rolled out numerous upgrades and improvements to its mapping tools over the past year.