Thursday, May 26, 2005
Google gets gimmicky, rivals follow
Since Google Maps now shows streets in a colorful yellow with a cartoon-like shadow over the location you are searching for, Microsoft has announced plans to follow with a cool 45 degree angle view of buildings. I can't stand Google Maps so even though I use Google for many of my searches including addresses, I always click on the Yahoo Maps option in the results.
And of course Amazon's A9.com which I like for its integration of the results launched its new search with an attempt to photograph every block in American cities starting with a handful few in an attempt to reinvent the lucrative yellow pages. According to this Wall Street Journal story:
Indeed, MapQuest, a mapping service of Time Warner Inc.'s America Online unit, offered satellite images several years ago but discontinued the feature because "usage of it just dropped" over time, says AOL spokesman Brian Hoyt. (Mr. Hoyt says MapQuest is considering reinstating the images as consumer interest has been stoked by the addition of the feature by rivals.)
This race to out-gimmick each other is all directed towards figuring out new local search-based applications and increasing advertising potential for the companies providing these new ways to search.
Oddly the same Wall Street Journal story writes about how Microsoft hopes to build a Citysearch-like yellow pages but fails to mention how Yahoo! Local (without a gimmicky aerial map, at least for now) has already launched successfully several months ahead of the competition.
That's why over the next year the race will likely shift to trying to attract a mass of people to contribute their knowledge of local places to the new services. Mr. Lawler says that Microsoft sees the first iteration of that as a short of "enhanced Yellow Pages," in which a search for a particular restaurant, for instance, could not only list directions to get there but also have food recommendations written by regular customers.
I was skeptical at first but lunch with Chris Shipley, who had advised the team behind Yahoo! Local, made me look at the service seriously and I've become a loyal user since. I'll be curious to see how new iterations from all these companies deliver on their promise of a more useful local search rather than gimmicks galore that only deliver more opportunities for them to generate ad revenue.