The conference Where 2.0 begins tomorrow in San Jose, California. It’s about mapping, mashups and location-based services and there should be a range of interesting announcements from companies large and small. To that end, Garrett Rogers speculates, based on domain name registrations, that Google will be announcing a “street view” mapping capability at the show. Here’s more background on a related startup (Vutool), which Google allegedly acquired to offer this functionality (or some version of it).
Microsoft has experimented with street-level photography and has had “Street Side” (in Seattle and San Francisco) for over a year. And of course, Amazon’s A9 used to have street-level photography in its innovative “block view” offering, which the company shut down last year.
I recently spoke informally with Barnaby Dorfman (at the recent Facebook Platform launch), who managed A9′s local search before he left the company, and we lamented the demise of block view. A9′s former CEO Udi Manber is now at Google (and has been since early 2006). He’s VP of Engineering and doesn’t have direct responsibility for anything in Maps or local. However, all the elements in place suggests that Google will ultimately offer street-level views on Maps. Most recently it has made images more prominent in Maps (for Universal Search).
Mapping has proven to be one of the most interesting, and most competitive, categories on the Internet — a kind of a parallel universe to search in that regard. All the major mapping providers (Mapquest, Google, Yahoo, Microsoft) have APIs that are being used widely by third parties and have enabled a “generation” of applications with maps at their center (e.g., Platial) or as a central part of the user experience (e.g., Zillow). In fact, there are now hundreds and probably even thousands of sites that fall into the category of map-based mashups.
Among the majors there’s a kind of “arms race” going on to develop the richest mapping interfaces and, in the case of Google and Microsoft, most “immersive” 3-D environments. Along those lines, another anticipated Google announcement is tied to automated 3-D rendering in playing catch up (or should I say SketchUp?) to Microsoft’s big 3-D push.
There’s also the simultaneous move toward mapping personalization at the majors (already present at a host of startups).
Mapquest, the category traffic leader, not long ago reintroduced aerial photography into maps after being the first to do so years ago and then abandoning it for lack of user interest. For its part, Yahoo, the first company to turn maps into a local search tool, recently upgraded maps and introduced some new mapping-overlay capabilities. IAC’s Ask City site has also been very innovative in a number of ways (i.e., customization, interface enhancements).
Because of their utility and visual nature maps will continue to evolve and become richer as the Internet continues to evolve. Indeed, geo-tagging and maps represent an alternative way (“geobrowsing“) to organize and and display any information tied to place and the “real world.”