October 14, 2005

Google Maps on verge of overtaking MapQuest

Looked at Internet mapping recently? Perhaps nowhere is the “leapfrog” effect of the Internet more evident than in the arena of online maps. Mapping has become so incredibly cool recently, and I find interesting the way in which the market leader can be left behind so quickly.

What is – or was – the dominant brand in online maps? MapQuest, right? MapQuest, a Denver-based company owned by AOL was the predominant mapping system on the Web for years. Most people, when looking for maps, would type mapquest.com into their browsers.

That’s changing, and rapidly. The dominant brand is, or soon will be, Google Maps (maps.google.com). Talk to people who have used Google Maps recently, and you’ll see their faces light up, and hear comments such as “it’s just so cool!”

Having used Google Maps for a few months now, working with MapQuest feels just so … so primitive.

A single difference is so important that it’s enough to wreck the MapQuest brand. Imagine for the moment that you’re viewing a map of, say, downtown Denver. You want to view a portion of the map that is out of view, to the south for instance. What do you do? On MapQuest, you click on the south border of the map, and wait for the map to shift. On Google you point with the mouse anywhere on the map, press and hold the mouse button, then drag the map up, to reveal the portion of the map hidden to the south. Actually you can drag the map in any direction, absolutely any angle.

The first time you use this feature it’s a real “wow!” moment. You know this is how online mapping should work. It’s far quicker than working with MapQuest, or any other online mapping system I’ve seen. In fact, the first time people use this feature they find themselves dragging the map in circles, back and forth, to and fro. It’s very fast, and very easy.

If that were the only cool feature, MapQuest would be in trouble. But there’s more. Unfortunately for MapQuest, a lot more. First, the maps are quite simply nicer looking; they’re cleaner and easier to read. You can zoom in closer and view more detail. I zoomed in on the Colorado State Capitol building on both systems. On Google the building was twice the size and labeled.

Then there’s the satellite imagery. Click the “Satellite” button, and you’ll see an image of the map you’re viewing as seen from orbit. And yes, you can drag the satellite image around in the same way you can move the map. There’s also a “Hybrid” button, showing the satellite photography, plus street and landmark names placed over the photos. You can switch between views – map, satellite, and hybrid – at will, and it’s surprising how easy it can be.

While looking for the Littleton Light Rail station, for instance, I was unable to find it on any map; it’s not labeled on Google or MapQuest and even the Regional Transportation District’s maps don’t seem to show you where it is in relation to local streets. Using Google, though, I was able to switch from map to satellite, follow the track through Littleton, and see an actual photograph of the station.

Then there’s “Local Search.” For example, click the Local Search link, type pizza and Google will place little “pins” on the map – or the satellite photo – showing you where you can find pizza. How do you find pizza restaurants on MapQuest? You click the little “Restaurants” link in the “Search Denver For” box and then, on the following page, click the “Pizza” link. You’ll see a list of pizza restaurants. Find one you think may be nearby – it’s not mapped, so you’ll have to guess – then click the “Map” link to see that restaurant on a map.

I’ve spoken to several people about Google Maps recently, and always hear the same excitement in their voices. It’s not perfect. I think Yahoo! Maps actually does a better job of helping you find locations such as restaurants, shops, ATMs and recreational locations. But it’s a huge step forward, and if MapQuest can’t come up with something comparable soon, we’ve got a new dominant mapping brand on the Internet.

Peter Kent is an Internet Marketing consultant in Denver. His most recent book is “Search Engine Optimization for Dummies.” He can be reached at pkent@ichannelservices.com.

Looked at Internet mapping recently? Perhaps nowhere is the “leapfrog” effect of the Internet more evident than in the arena of online maps. Mapping has become so incredibly cool recently, and I find interesting the way in which the market leader can be left behind so quickly.

What is – or was – the dominant brand in online maps? MapQuest, right? MapQuest, a Denver-based company owned by AOL was the predominant mapping system on the Web for years. Most people, when looking for maps, would type mapquest.com into their browsers.

That’s changing, and rapidly. The dominant brand is, or soon will be,…

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