House hunting with the new Yahoo! Maps
By Charlene Li
I had a chance to put the new Yahoo! Maps through its paces this weekend as I went around to open houses on Sunday. Anyone who's been through the drill knows what a pain it is to do this!
First, a quick overview of what's new and different with Yahoo! Maps. 1) Great functionality and update to Yahoo! Maps, especially removing the need for page refreshes thanks to a nice Flash implementation (think Google Maps but with Flash instead of AJAX); 2) Multi-point mapping. Very, very key when managing an open house afternoon; 3) The back button works -- thanks to Flash, I can use the back button to back up when a refinement I've made isn't what I want; and 4) the URL updates automatically, meaning I can copy and send the URL to my husband/broker to give them the directions.
In a word, it was wonderful. I used one browser window to look up open houses and then plotted them on the map. I could drag and drop locations within the directions (albeit, it was a little cumbersome to do this). At the end of the process, I did two things -- I printed a copy of the directions and I also used Yahoo!'s "Send to Phone" option to SMS the directions to my cell.
Contrast that to the process I used last weekend.
1) Find and enter the address each time into Google Maps.
2) Print out each map.
3) Figure out what order to see the houses in with all of them laid out on the table.
4) Stack the houses into the order I was hoping to see them in.
5) Pray while driving around with two kids that the pile didn't get re-ordered. My prayers were not answered. Realized that I should have stapled the entire pile together (aargh).
There's still a lot of work for Yahoo! to do, but it's a big step in the right direction. I have long thought that the Yahoo! Local service is heads and shoulders above Google's offerings -- with the exception of the maps. This should go a long way to helping Yahoo! regain that mapping ground, especially as its made the SDK much more robust for Maps.
But here's the big question -- is this all enough to "win" against Google Maps and keep MSN's Virtual Earth at bay? Robert Scoble doesn't think so and I have to agree with him. This is because the key to a mapping service's success is that it's used outside of the service itself by developers who will tap into the mapping APIs. Scoble uses Zvents as an example and I had a chance to speak with Ethan Stock aobut the service and their use of Google Maps on Friday. Zvents was caught in the middle of a minor hailstorm on Friday thanks to Scoble's post (Ethan blogs about it). At issue are the terms of service which restricted how many server calls can be made and whether commercial applications could access the APIs. Yahoo! revised the TOS and all seems to have died down. But at the core of the issue is a general distrust that Google/MSN/Yahoo! will eventually start charging for access to the maps at some point in the future. As I mentioned in my post about Microsoft's Live initiative, trust will be a major issue for all of these players, but especially so for Yahoo! and Microsoft as Google continues to command mindshare with developers.