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Yahoo Enhances Maps, Integrates Local Search

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In a major overhaul, Yahoo has significantly upgraded its Maps offering with cleaner maps and integrated local search results.

Just as Google did last month, Yahoo has enhanced the functionality of its map offering by integrating local search capabilities and results into the mix. The new Yahoo Local Maps beta also features larger maps with more "wow" factors, according to Paul Levine, general manager, Yahoo Local.

Rather than starting with a text-based form that asks you to enter a location, the new interface is much more visual, featuring a map of your default location when you start using the service.

There are also search forms that let you map a specific location, get driving directions by entering a second address, or do a local, keyword-based search. Entering a location causes the map to zoom in on the location. Entering a second address displays driving directions beneath the forms, rescales the map and draws a line illustrating the route.

Drop-down menus automatically keep track of your previous locations, and if you have a Yahoo address book, your entries are also available in the drop-down menu. You can also save locations that you refer to frequently.

The local search form allows you to search for local businesses and services without entering an address—searches automatically take place within the area defined by the current map. Local businesses are represented on the map as numbered icons; mousing over the icon displays the name of the business, and clicking the icon opens up a bubble with additional links.

The integration between local search results is also well-done. For example, it's easy to get multi-point driving directions. After requesting driving directions between two places, simply run a local search, and click icons on the map that represent businesses you want to travel to next. Clicking the "directions from" or "directions to" links in the popup for a business will automatically append driving directions to you list from your last location.

Many of the new features work this way. "It allows users to do things without having to type anything," said Jeremy Kreitler, senior product manager, Yahoo maps & local.

As another example, it's easier to manipulate the position and scale of each map. Clicking a location on the map re-centers the map on that position. Double-clicking on a location both centers the map and zooms in on the location. You can also drag maps around on the screen to change the center position.

A new overlay window in the upper right corner of the map shows the relative position of your current view on a larger-scale map. Dragging the grey-shaded box that represents your current view allows you to rapidly scroll the map across a very large area. You can also use the zoom controls on the right side of this overlay to rapidly change the scale of your map.

As you build, change, and manipulate maps and directions, the URL in your address window is automatically updated with all current information. This makes it easy to save the map with all the important details you want to keep. Yahoo has also made it easy to print, email or send a fully-annotated map to a WAP-based mobile phone.

Yahoo has optimized the printing process to provide "optimal" output regardless of how you print. There are options to print driving directions with a map, or print text only. You can also print using your browser's print button and maps will still be formatted intelligently.

As part of the upgrade, Yahoo has made it easier for developers to modify, enhance and use maps on any web site. Two months ago, Yahoo introduced an API that allowed developers to overlay data on Yahoo maps. This functionality has been significantly extended, with two different sets of developer tools.

The first is a syndication API, designed to allow developers to pull a map onto their own web site and overlay their own content on the map. The API offers allows developers to work with Flash or Ajax formats, and includes downloadable source code that allows developers to add interesting hacks to maps, such as distance measuring tools, a magnifiying glass tool or other interesting widgets.

The second set of tools consist of building block APIs that go deeper into the coding and computing of geographic information, such as geocoding, map calls and local search. Kreitler says these are the same pieces Yahoo uses to build its own public offering. These building blocks allow developers to create a wide range of applications—for example, a mapping application designed for a Palm Treo or other device not currently supported by Yahoo.

More information about the developer APIs can be found at Yahoo Maps Web Services.

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