O'Reilly Radar tips us to update RE online mapping
May 22nd, 2007 by JTJ

We are finding O'Reilly's Radar an increasingly valuable site/blog to keep up with interesting developments in Web 2.0, publishing and the general Digital Revolution.  Brady Forrest's contribution below is an example.


Trends of Online Mapping Portals

Posted: 21 May 2007 04:34 PM CDT

By Brady Forrest

Last week there were several announcements made that show the direction
of the online mapping portals. Satellite images and slippy maps are no
longer differentiators for attracting users, everyone has them and as I
noted last week there are now companies that have cropped up to service
companies that want their own maps. Some of these new differentiators
are immersive experiences, owning the stack, and data!

Immersive experience within the browser – A couple of weeks ago Google maps added building frames that are visible at street level in some cities. These 2.5D frames are very clean and useful when trying to place something on a street.

google 2.5d maps

Now the Mercury News (warning: annoying reg required; found via TechCrunch) is reporting that these builds will soon be fully fleshed out.

The Mercury News has learned that Google has quietly
licensed the sensing technology developed by a team of Stanford
University students that enabled Stanley, a Volkswagon Touareg R5, to
win the 2005 DARPA Grand Challenge. In that race, the Stanford robotic
car successfully drove more than 131 miles through the Mojave Desert in
less than seven hours.

The technology will enable Google to map out photo-realistic 3-D
versions of cities around the world, and possibly regain ground it has
lost to Microsoft's 3-D mapping application known as Virtual Earth.

The license will be exclusive, but don't think Google
will be the only ones with 3-D in the browser. Microsoft has had 3-D
for a while now (unfortunately, it requires the .NET framework; my
assumption is that the team is busy converting it to SilverLight). 3-D
is going to become a standard part of mapping applications. The trick
will be making sure that the extra data doesn't get in the way of the
user's quest to get information. Buildings are slow to render and can
obscure directions.

This strategy is a nice compliment to their current strategy of
gathering and harnessing 3-D models from users. Currently these are
only available in Google Earth. The primary location to get them is
Google's 3D Warehouse. I suspect that we will start to see user contributed models on Google Maps.

No word on how many cities Google will roll out their 3D models in or when the new data will be available via their API.

Data, Data, & More Data – Until recently, search
engines did not provide neighborhoods as a way of searching cities.
Neighborhoods are an incredibly useful, if hard to define, method of
defining an area of a city.

Google has now added
neighboorhood data to their index, but they have not really done much
with it. If you know the neighborhood name then you can use that to
supplement searching a city. However, if you are uncertain or if you
are unaware of the feature, then you are SOL. There is no indication
that the feature exists, how widespread it is, or what the boundaries
of the neighborhood are. I hope that they continue to expand on this

ask neighborhood map

on the other hand has done a great job with this feature (see above).
They surface nearby neighborhood names for easy follow-on searches (see
below). They show you the bounds of the neighborhood quite clearly.

ask neighborhoods

Ask is using data from SF startup Urban Mapping. Urban Mapping claims
complete coverage of ~300 urban areas in the US and Canada (with Europe
coming). This isn't an easy problem. Urban Mapping has been working at
it for quite sometime and are known for having a good data set. They
have also been aggregating transit data. An interesting thing to note
is that many of the same neighborhoods available on Ask are also
available on Google maps (examples: Tenderloin, SF: Google, Ask; Civic Center, SF: Google, Ask)
No word yet if any of the other big engines are going to add
neighborhood data, but my guess is that it will soon become a standard
feature; it's too useful to not have.

Own the Stack – Until recently, Yahoo! used deCarta to handle creating directions (or routing). They have announced
that they have taken ownership of this part of the stack and have built
their own routing engine. Ask and Google still use deCarta. Microsoft
has always had their own. Yahoo! is hoping to make their new engine a
differentiator. In some ways this is analogous to Microsoft's purchase
of Vexcel, a 3D imagery provider. Microsoft did not want the same 3D data as Google Earth or any other search engine for its 3D world.

I think that any vendor servicing Google, Microsoft, Ask, Yahoo or
MapQuest will have to keep an eye on their next source of revenue.
Those contracts aren't going to necessarily last too long. The geostack
is too valuable to outsource.

There is only one part of the stack that I think *might* be to
expensive for any one of the engines to buy or build out right. That's
the street data and it's a data source primarily supplied by two
companies, NAVTEQ and Tele Atlas. NAVTEQ has a market cap of 3.5 bilion dollars as of this writing; Tela Atlas has one of 1.4 billion pounds. These would be spendy purchases. Microsoft is currently working closely with Facet Technology Corporation to collect street data for cities to add a street-level 3D layer (see Facet's SightMap
for a preview), but this Facet is not collecting data to match the
other players. It will be interesting to see if Yahoo! parleys its partnershipOpenStreetMap into a data play.

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