Although Microsoft might disagree, Yahoo was really the company that kicked off the dynamic mapping arms race back in March of 2004 with the introduction of a feature called “SmartView” ( a version of it still exists on Yahoo Maps “dial-up” presentation). SmartView enabled users of Yahoo Maps to conduct map-based searches using category buttons tied to travel, restaurants and entertainment. It included a similar capacity to search for local service businesses. All results were plotted on the map. It also offered contextually relevant geo-targeted ads around the map.
Compared to what exists today that might seem basic, but it was a significant development that set the stage and tone for map-centric local search as it appears today on all of Yahoo’s competitors’ local search sites: Google Maps, Microsoft Live Local/Maps, Ask City, AOL Local/Mapquest.
Despite continuing to innovate and improve Yahoo Maps, the company has ceded some of the sizzle and spotlight to Google and Microsoft, which have gone on to invest heavily in 3-D capabilities and personalization. Yahoo has also seen Google Maps catch up to its usage, whereas Yahoo had been alone at number two on the heels of long-time category leader Mapquest (itself recently compelled by competitive pressure to reintroduce aerial and satellite mapping).
But today Yahoo is rolling out a range of improvements and design enhancements to Maps that follow some very interesting mapping enhancements in Yahoo Travel. Here’s the list of upgrades and changes from the press release:
- Terrain overlays – a Yahoo first – provide added dimension
- View areas by neighborhood – a Yahoo first – launching first in NYC and San Francisco
- See building footprints – launching for NYC and San Francisco; 30 more cities coming soon
- Search for directions using only a point of interest (e.g., Empire State Building, Eiffel Tower)
- Ability to get driving directions in 34 European countries from the U.S. Yahoo Maps site
- Redesigned interactive print page makes it easier to print and read driving directions
- Completely updated dial-up version of Yahoo Maps
- New Back-End Features
- Greater focus on accuracy – through our software and improved geo-coder
- Platform is globally scalable and built for the future – in-country roll-outs planned in France, Germany, Italy, Spain and UK; Yahoo Maps India already in beta Yahoo
In testing out ome of the new functionality this morning I also noticed speed and other subtle performance improvements. But what people will notice are some of the more obvious “cosmetic” changes: rendering of terrain at certain distances, color-coded neighborhoods and building footprints. The latter two exist right now only in San Francisco and New York, but will be rolling out across other cities in the next few months.
The ability to access European driving directions from the U.S. (e.g., Paris to Munich) is a novel addition that will be valuable to a select group of travelers and trip planners.
In the realm of driving directions, one of the things that impressed me in playing with some of the new features is one that I believe was available in a previous release but that I hadn’t used before: the “right click” directions functionality. You point to a location on the map, right click and can get immediate directions to or from that location; and this can be done with mutli-point directions too.
Yahoo Maps has thus far shunned some of the “bells and whistles” that Google and Microsoft have pursued (i.e., 3-D). And some time ago Yahoo Local GM Paul Levine said to me that Yahoo Maps was really trying to focus on solving practical problems for people. To that end, Yahoo emphasized in its slide presentation on the new upgrades how the company has invested in improving the accuracy and quality of routing and driving directions.
Nonetheless, there are definitely some bells and whistles here too — though perhaps of a more practical nature.