Google Maps Get Street Smart

Google’s mapping technology is zooming down from its overhead views and placing users on the street with the freedom to check out restaurants and landmarks and even home in on bus stops or street signs to make travel plans.

The new feature in Google Maps provides panoramic, 360-degree street-level images for maps of San Francisco, New York, Las Vegas, Denver and Miami, and will soon expand to other cities throughout the country, according to the company.

Much like Google Earth, Google Maps provides detailed street-level maps and point-of-interest information, allowing viewers to pan and zoom along particular travel routes, or take a scenic cruise through neighborhoods.

Map the Leaders

So far, the search giant is playing catch-up with street-level viewing features developed by other companies. Microsoft is viewed as leading the charge of immersion online maps after introducing in July 2005 its bird’s eye view “Virtual Earth,” which offers users detailed street-level maps and point of interest information throughout the United States.

In 2005, Internet retail giant Amazon also introduced street-level maps with A9.com Yellow Pages — a guide to local businesses complete with photographs.

“It’s a valuable addition to maps and complements the satellite view,” Greg Sterling, founder of consultancy Sterling Market Intelligence, told TechNewsWorld.

However, Microsoft and Amazon don’t have much of a cushion, Sterling noted, suggesting that they need to pay attention to Google when it moves into a new technology space.

“Microsoft has had this for over a year but hasn’t rolled it out beyond Seattle and San Francisco. A-9 also had it, but shut it down,” he added.

Continued Innovation

Google, Microsoft, Yahoo and MapQuest — a unit of AOL — will likely continue to create new online mapping features, according to Sterling.

Google also announced plans for mapplets, a tool for independent software developers to build mini-applications that can be displayed within Google Maps. Mapplets can illustrate a variety of information, from housing listings to crime data, as well as ways to measure distances between points on the map.

“One day we were looking at two of the original Google Maps mashups, HousingMaps.com and ChicagoCrime.org, and we realized it would be even more useful if they could be combined, because most people wouldn’t want to live near high crime areas,” Thai Tran, Google Maps product manager, wrote on the Google Maps blog.

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