Long found on the sidelines of the mapping 2.0 feature war between Google Maps, Yahoo Maps and Microsoft Live Maps, MapQuest maintains a comfortable market share lead. The time-tested brand boasts 50 million unique monthly users (see last column).
Recently the company felt the time was right to quietly launch a beta site that may represent the new face of mapping's old guard. Their newfangled features mirror the competition. How will the beta release impact the marketplace? The key takeaway: MapQuest opens the door for different forms of map-based advertising that could define new standards in local search.
That doesn't mean competitors have stopped trying to leap ahead of MapQuest.
The Hare to MapQuest's Turtle
What's the opposite of MapQuest's tried and true 10-year product strategy around a simple mapping product? How about a company that bursts out of the gates with a mapping product built around big colorful three-dimensional renderings of U.S. cities?
EveryScape, launched last month, is the latest 3-D mapping play that's part Google Street View and part Microsoft Virtual Earth 3-D. The user interface (UI) essentially patches together photographs and creates 3-D renderings of cities, which users can move in and out of using a mouse.
To monetize the experience, the company hopes some advertisers will pay to have the interiors of their buildings exhibited in the same 3-D UI.
"The product includes a self-service portal where a business owner can say, that's my store and I really want to allow people to walk inside and see what it's like," said EveryScape CEO Jim Shoonmaker. "This can include putting in a ticket booth and selling tickets, or do whatever you want to do that's relevant to the business."
Hotels, apartment buildings and the travel industry would be naturals. EveryScape could hit a wall with other verticals -- such as professional services, where consumers don't really care what the inside of the building looks like.
Hospitality, real estate and travel present a sizeable opportunity. Whether EveryScape succeeds depends on marketing efforts and traction within these target verticals. The degree of success will make or break the company's monetization potential. As with MapQuest, there's an opportunity to integrate transactional or CPA (define) advertising in addition to search based or CPM (define) advertising.
"Once you build the real world online, you have a photorealistic experience of interiors and exteriors. That is a platform upon which you can integrate all kinds of content," Shoonmaker said. "For example, if you're in a restaurant, you can add a link to OpenTable through an affiliated relationship with them."
Plotting the Right Course
So which is the better business plan? The two companies are far enough away from each other that a side by side comparison wouldn't mean much. More appropriate perhaps is a question of which product strategy has the monetization potential and features which searchers and advertisers will be more drawn to.
It's hard to argue with MapQuest's numbers; its utilitarian focus and proven traction aren't going away any time soon. With 3-D mapping on the other hand, Microsoft's and Google's investment in mapping features similar to that of EveryScape is a vote of confidence for continued development and marketing push.
And usage will only increase as broadband penetration continues to grow and high speed fiber networks driven by telco IPTV initiatives will enable better traction of broadband hungry iterations of these products.
"The quality of the photographs that we have are very detailed, but we have to downsample them pretty heavily to squeeze them through the pipes," Shoonmaker said. "So just imagine how much better it could be with bigger viewers and more detailed pictures."
So both models, as they develop, will represent ways for small businesses to market themselves locally. New revenue generating transactional channels willl open up along with different forms of the search-based and directional advertising we know today.
Instead of the search interfaces we've learned or grown to love, mapping may take over as more of a centerpiece for local searches for categories of businesses where advertising's more closely tied to location. Some local SERPs (define) could get a lot more colorful than blue links, green URLs, and a white backdrop.