Steven Lawler of Microsoft didn't directly mention Google by name, but many of his comments this morning at Where2.0 were directed toward differentiating Microsoft's Virtual Earth platform and Windows Live Local's consumer destination from the company's chief online rival. As part of his very accelerated presentation (15 minutes) he said that Microsoft's goal is to "leverage local information on a global basis" through a mapping interface. That's very much like the message Google presented yesterday.
He added that "The Virtual Earth team is going to make a virtual world where people can quickly jump in and get information in many different dimensions."
Lawler elaborated that Microsoft's goal was to create a "2-D and 3-D model of the entire globe." He used Microsoft's "Birds Eye" aerial and pedestrian-level "Streetside" photography to argue that the company had established a leading position in mapping and now had the best technology and user experience available. As evidence, Lawler pointed to the recent Vexcel acquisition, which included an advanced digital camera for capturing aerial imagery down to 6 inches of resolution.
Lawler said that Microsoft would bring Birds Eye aerial photography to 80% of the U.S. and Europe in the very near future. And he compared the relationship between Birds Eye vs. satellite mapping to HDTV vs. analog TV.
One of the areas of emphasis was on social media/networking and "collections," effectively mashups (Lawler called them "mix-ins") where users bring local data and information to a Virtual Earth mapping interface.
Lawler said that Microsoft was building out its "geocommunity," which includes many non-developers (i.e., regular people). He added that Miscrosoft's installed community base included MSN Spaces and Messenger IM users. Lawler said that that "database" included 14 billion crisscrossing relationships that Microsoft hoped to tap and leverage as part of this geocommunity.
On the subject of how people find user-generated collections and other map-based data, Lawler argued, "What's going to be key is how people discover and share information going forward. The [Virtual Earth] platform is about extracting the data and combining that with imagery."