July 24, 2005
It’s been slashdotted so I haven’t been able to get to it yet.
From the slashdot article:
Virtual Earth introduces a number of interface enhancements to the now-familiar draggable aerial web map, such as the ability to zoom in using your mouse scroll wheel, and a Location Finder to determine your location to determine your real-world location “using Wi-Fi technology.” Microsoft blogger Robert Scoble claims the site may not perform at full capacity until Monday.”
Perhaps they are using WMS to identify where the users are but are they requiring a downloadable application and, if so, is it for Windows only?
UPDATE: I finally got onto the site this morning (Mon, Jul 25) and tried it out.
As expected, based on this, you can conduct multiple local searches on the same map, color coded, save them to a scratch pad, etc.
There is a feature to allow you to customize such features as animating zooming, saving history and scratch pad, etc. Additionally, it can try to find your location based on a downloadable active X to use wifi to locate you or try to guess where you are based on your IP Address (which I have usually found unreliable due to proxies & such so making it optional is a good thing. Perhaps they are using Digital Envoy to do IP to Location lookups…I will have to play with the data more to identify which one they are using but my guess is it is a commercial product/service and , if they didn’t develop their own, they probably are using Digital Envoy(???).
The satellite images are a bit grainy at many locations (but not all) and overall, the site is slow, comparatively speaking. I suspect they are still working on it (it is in beta) and they are still missing a lot of the features such as the overhead/45 degree pictures and 3D buildings. So far, they have a great start. I can’t wait to see it once it is fully complete.
I also zoomed in on a few locations and noticed the zoom gets in much closer with Virtual Earth…that, so far, is one of my favorite features that beats out Google’s product. With the zoom, I can actually see the information on the streets such as an arrow curving left signifying that there is a left-turn lane on that street.
|Virtual Earth zoomed in all the way||Google Maps zoomed in all the way|
In fact, I can even see people and their shadows at a park near my house (they’re the dots on the field with shadows). And, by the way, I can zoom in/out using the scroll wheel on Windows/IE (not on Firefox/Linux).
Also, in the pictures above, notice MSN already has Hybrid-mode street overlays on aerial photography. You can also opt to hide them from a drop-down.
I also like the ability to add things to the scratchpad and save my scratchpad and/or history without ever having to create an account or log in…much more convenient. Geocoding of addresses, however, seems to be off by as much as 120 yards or so (but Google was off as well by at least as much when searching for my home). My biggest annoyance so far is that I keep getting broken images/tiles on the map…hopefully this gets cleaned up or goes away when the load on the application servers created by its initial launch levels off. The site works for me on Linux & Mac in Firefox but I also wished I could use additional features currently reserved for IE users (i.e. scratchpad to blog requires IE on MSN Spaces, geolocating by wifi requires activeX, etc).
…and, yes, there are rumors that MSN is planning a developer API (see this, this, and this, for example). The idea of developer help and community seems to be tied in already, though…they have a “Community” link which currently takes you to a survey along with developer and forum links.
One thing I like that they added is the “permalink” link which constructs a URL for you to send to people (which was a pain in the but with Google’s launch that caused others to create “Hacking Google Maps URLs”-type sites.
Also, MSN has added the ability to pan using a compass that you drag. It is smooth and works well (and is convenient) in Windows/IE but is very erratic and jumpy in Firefox/Linux.
Unlike Google Maps, Virtual Earth uses 2 boxes (”what” & “where”) rather than Google’s “1″ box. Additionally, it is unclear, based on this UI, how driving directions would be integrated. The only way to get to it now is by searching for a point/location, clicking the marker to open a descriptive layer, then clicking on “directions to/from” which goes to their current implementation of driving directions (not virtual earth version). I think this adds an extra step where I have to go to my starting point first before getting driving directions. I don’t like that.
However, I think having 2 boxes instead of one actually helps clear up some of the problems I have with fals-positives on Google Maps where you search for a location and a number of locations happen to have that location name on their site so they all show up. Do demonstrate my point, try finding the Statue of Liberty on Google Maps. The reason you get so many results is that they are matching locations with those keywords in the name or site of those locations. If I were able to specify I was looking for a geography rather than names of places matching that name, I would hope to get one pushpin signifying the area I was looking for. MSN doesn’t seem to have resolved this yet and even have lots of missing images but I’m hoping that, too, gets cleaned up after beta.