Jul 27

Nat Torkington

Nat Torkington

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.

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» Profile - MSN Virtual Earth from TechCrunch

Update: This is a great tool for directly comparing Google Maps and MSN Virtual Earth. You can see the results for a search on both services and really compare them. Via Nathan Torkington Service: MSN Virtual Earth Launched: July 23, 2005 What is... Read More

Comments: 10

  Waider [07.28.05 04:15 AM]

Regarding how quickly virtual earth appeared, don't forget that Microsoft has had the terraserver for years and done nothing much with it, plus they've had expedia maps to play with. So while the project may only have been greenlit in April, they've no doubt had enough pieces lying around that it was simply a matter of gluing them together and putting on a UI. I've been playing with mapsites myself for the last few years and once you've figured out a way of normalizing your data (such that lat,long,scale produces an equivalent map from each souce) everything else is a cakewalk.

  Mark Harwood [07.28.05 09:09 AM]

And now Esri open up their mapping web apis:

Amazing how quick mapping is becoming a free commodity.

  pwb [07.28.05 12:10 PM]

"shows up how pointless the elegant animated zoom on MSN Virtual Earth is"

I'd disagree slightly. Google's big advance was on the user experience so I think this slightly better user experience shouldn't be discounted. You could say the same thing about all the silliness in MacOS but it makes it feel ever so slightly less like a (Windows) computer.

  npdoty [08.01.05 08:29 AM]

"(b) they launched with a developer site already built."

Well, kind of. The developer site is not officially related to the site, just the creation of someone who was interested, and there are many, many of those for Google Maps (though perhaps they aren't linked to as prominently by Google as this one strangely is by Microsoft). And the documentation that ViaVirtualEarth provides is nice, but nothing in comparison to the public API and plethora of examples that the Google Maps team has made available.

I think drawing conclusions about Microsoft being better prepared for developers, though an admirable attempt at objectivity, is hasty.

  Steve [08.02.05 12:01 PM]

The selling point for VirtualEarth over Google Maps for me is that VirtualEarth is aware of landmarks and neighborhoods. I can search for "bars near fenway park" in Virtual Earth, or "hotels near Mt Rainier" and it will pick up on that. For the former, Google Maps will make you search across all of Boston, and then you'll have to zoom down to find Fenway Park by yourself. Regarding Mt Rainier - you'll just have to find it.

For giggles, you can also search for "chinese food in chinatown" in VirtualEarth, and it will pop up a little div with a list of cities that have Chinatowns - after you select the city you were looking in, it completes the search. This isn't possible in Google Maps.

  Matt Fare [08.14.05 11:25 AM]

Is there another Virtural Earth program that is more clear when zooming down on a city/town?

  alaa [10.10.05 06:28 PM]

google earth

  Colin [06.05.06 06:45 PM]

I don't think you can have a fair comparison of the two without comparing their API and Google has Microsoft beat hands down.

Google came up with an elegant object-based API that is clean and powerful. They already support third-party map layers, WMS data, polylines, click events for markers, and even custom map controls.

Virtual Earth looks pretty weak by comparison. The API is limited and more procedural in style (you add a pushpin via a five parameter long function call using primative types instead of a more elegant use of GMarker and LatLng objects [or whatever] with GMaps) thus it feels awkward and old-school. Not "Web 2.0" javascript at all.

That said, with the release of MapCruncher a couple weeks ago, the commercial licensing that GMaps lacks, and the continued interest in the VE map control, I anticipate that Microsoft will catch up to GMaps rather quickly.

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