Yahoo Tries to Put Itself on the Map

Yahoo looked to shorten its route to more online consumers with an enhanced Yahoo Maps tool that is integrated with Yahoo’s local maps service and offers new features, such as drag-and-drop location and directions delivery.

Yahoo, which has lagged behind its online search portal competition Google and MSN on Internet maps, also bolstered its maps service developer tools, with the release of application program interfaces (APIs) for use with Flash and dhtml applications.

Industry observers indicated that the different mapping and search giants are in a game of oneupmanship once again on maps, but they nonetheless share a challenge in transforming Internet users into Internet revenue generators.

“When you look at the market that Yahoo, Google and MSN are all in, you see it’s a me-too market. If one sneezes, they all catch a cold,” Basex CEO and chief analyst Jonathan Spira told TechNewsWorld. “Whatever features one will have, it’s pretty much a certainty that developers [of the others] will follow up on each other.”

Local, Personal

Yahoo stressed its more intuitive and personalized maps service — such tools are generally used for driving directions, but increasingly are being put to use for more sophisticated map searches and online sightseeing via the advanced features of the major search engines.

Yahoo linked its new Maps with its local mapping service, which includes reviews and more detailed information on local businesses. Yahoo also stressed the ease of use and personalized touches of its enhanced map service, which can more smoothly move along and among maps, and which recognizes the user’s general location.

“Our new maps service is the result of extensive research on user preferences and experiences, ” said a statement from Yahoo Local Services general manager Paul Levine. “We believe the design and rich relevant data have raised the bar for online mapping.”

Mash Up Meaning

Although the features and functionality of the different search engines and map services tend to keep the different players on the same path, Spira said, it is the integration of other maps and information — a form of so-called search engine “mash-ups” — that promises to be more useful and demanded by users.

“That’s where it starts to get interesting, when you allow people to do much more with [the maps],” Spira said.

The analyst indicated that the maps part of the competition among the giants is just getting underway. However, he added, the release of developers tools, which proved successful for Google and its maps service, reflects a different kind of development taking place.

“By opening the APIs, we’re first beginning to realize the potential that different applications can bring to each other way beyond the core application,” Spira said. “They develop it as a palette, and allow others to develop on that palette.”

Next Level: Revenue

Maurene Caplan-Grey, founder and principal analyst of Grey Consulting, told TechNewsWorld that Yahoo has taken a step toward greater personalization with its enhanced maps service, but the company and its competition have yet to monetize the “more human” experience they are providing.

“I see this as part of a larger, nascent trend that will develop into a market,” Grey said, likening the maps service to the popular Flikr photography service, which excels in personalization and was bought by Yahoo earlier this year.

“Participation, personalization, connectivity — they’re all human emotions that are being transferred when this cold, vast thing called the Internet is connecting with a person,” she said.

Grey added that the next major hurdle for the big players was to find a way to make money from the personalized offerings that gain in popularity, opining that it is unlikely to be accomplished through advertising, which can kill the “warm fuzzy” feeling of such services.

“This is their next challenge,” she said. “It’s not going to be exclusively through advertising, which is an old model. The revenue model will not be based on advertising. It will be based on the individual wanting more and more,” Grey added, offering online gaming subscriptions as an example of a successful revenue model of this kind.

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