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Windows Live Local Adds Traffic and Sharing

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Yesterday some people spotted Microsoft’s roll out of aerial photography in the UK (and Canada). That was part of a set of new enhancements to Windows Live Local that were more fully introduced this morning. (TechCrunch does a nice run-down.)

In addition to the expanded coverage, which will eventually include the rest of Europe, Microsoft has added the following new features:

  • Real-time traffic reporting
  • Integration with Outlook
  • Improved ability to save and share ?personal mashups? with others
This is the third "release" of WLL and reflects some nice improvements, including to the basic maps functionality, which had been lagging MapQuest, Google and Yahoo! in ease-of-use and other areas (I'll do a more comprehensive comparison in the near future.)

The new traffic feature is provided chiefly via a partnership with Traffic.com and makes WLL the second major mapping provider to offer this (Yahoo was the first). The Outlook integration is a nice feature and may introduce a number of users to WLL who weren't already aware of it.

Here's what the release says about the new "social networking" features:

"Collections: Social networking functionality allows customers to create lists of favorite landmarks and locations, upload personal photos and save them to a ?scratchpad.? This allows the Collections to be saved, recalled later, permalinked, and shared with friends and community via email, or through their MSN Spaces blog."
The social dimension of this is the most interesting of the new features and offers the most intriguing possibilities. Early-on one of the differentiators of WLL (beyond Birds Eye photography) was the ability to annotate maps and create "personalized mashups" with the scratch pad that can show multiple layers on the map (e.g., favorite London hotels + restaurants, etc.)

Right now there?s no ability to search a public database or index of mashups that people have created (e.g., ?my road trip through New England last fall"). Currently you can share your mashups through MSN Messenger and email via a pull-down on WLL. You can also save a personal favorites list ? yours and others ? on another menu pull-down, ?collections.? The ability to search for other peoples? mashups will come relatively soon. Then the product becomes like Yahoo?s Trip Planner beta, but with a broader range of potential applications.

There are a number of ?monetization scenarios? in this context. Most obvious and immediate would be travel (i.e., booking hotels via the map). But the ?democratization of mashups,? sharing and social elements of WLL offer a range of new possibilities about where mapping can go that we're only beginning to see.

Postscript:
Gary Price reminded us that MSN Autos has had live traffic for a long time and has alerts (including mobile) as one of the options there.

The display and the maps on Autos aren't quite as nice or usable. But I wonder if these are two disconnected systems. They certainly shouldn't be. And when I was briefed on WLL there was no mention of the Autos capabilities. Mobile alerts aren't yet avilable as part of the WLL offering (one would assume soon). The mapping functionality across MSN should be the Virtual Earth back end. That doesn't yet appear to be the case, but in the near term I would expect it.


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