Where 2.0: Compare Google Maps with Virtual Earth

This is a fantastic side-by-side comparison of Google Maps and MSN Virtual Earth. As you scroll or zoom on the Google Earth controls, the Virtual Earth view does the same thing. It’s interesting–Virtual Earth appears to have older satellite imagery but at a higher resolution. For example, the area where I live looks like it’s built on stripmine tailings, whereas Google Maps gives a blurry view that looks like entrails, but entrails in the shape of the houses that are actually there. The side-by-side comparison also shows up how pointless the elegant animated zoom on MSN Virtual Earth is. But these are surface distinctions …

What’s really interesting is that (a) Microsoft were able to catch up to Google so quickly, and (b) they launched with a developer site already built. I’m watching the Google Maps API mailing list and it’s obvious that the maps team weren’t prepared for the huge interest in their API. I don’t think Google’s ever built a community like this before, and we’re seeing them (and the maps group in particular) learning what skills they need. Microsoft, on the other hand, are old hands (“Developers, developers, developers!” anyone?) and hired someone before the launch to build and maintain a solid developer site for them. Yahoo! has had technical evangelists actively staffing their mailing list and providing assistance to users.

Of course, the Yahoo! Maps API list has about 5% of the traffic of the Google list (53 new Y! messages last week vs more than 50 Google messages today). This is probably because of the design decision Yahoo! made for their first maps API: you can plot points, but the page is hosted on the Yahoo! site. There’s little interactivity, and certainly not the amount of flexibility we’ve seen creative hackers embrace in Google’s offering (resulting in sites like Chicago Crime). The Yahoo! first effort doesn’t let me build an application with their service. Instead, I’m throwing my data at Yahoo! so they can build an application and show ads on it. It’s Web 1.5 at best.

So right now the quality ranking of mapping services is Google, Microsoft (but close and closing fast), and Yahoo! far behind. Of course, in search, the order is different. I find it’s Google, Yahoo! (close and closing), and Microsoft far behind, chasing them like a fat kid saying “wait for me, wait for me, I want to play too!”. But if the speed of Virtual Earth’s development and deployment (Virtual Earth was only greenlit as a project in April) is anything to go by, this race is far from over. What will Yahoo!’s second release be? What’s the next community feature that Virtual Earth will add? And what has Google been working on while the others were playing catch-up? The only thing I know at this stage is that it’ll be fun to watch the answers emerge (and to cover them at next year’s Where 2.0.