Windows Live Local Beta is Now Online; Some Global Imagery Also Added

Although they said it would go live at Noon EST, the Windows Live Local service that we wrote about yesterday is now online. Lots of details in yesterday’s post plus I’ve linked to the complete news release here.

One question I’ve been asked is what cities “bird’s eye” imagery will be available for. Here’s the list:

According to the web site, they have “more cities” with “Bird’s Eye images” that can “fit on one page” (that sounds a bit silly) but nevertheless they do offer a list of some major metro areas.
+ New York City, NY
+ San Francisco, CA
+ Boston, MA
+ Los Angeles, CA
+ Washington, DC
+ Seattle, WA
+ Philadelphia, PA
+ Las Vegas, NV
+ Atlanta, GA
+ Albuquerque, NM
+ Indianapolis, IN
+ Lexington, KY

No Chicago available? Yes, that appears to be the case. I went looking to take a “closer” 45-degree (bird’s eye view) look at McCormick Place. I found the location, no problem, but was unable to get the bird’s eye view According to the site, more cities will be coming soon. I would bet this has a lot to do with what Pictometry can supply MSN Live with. More about this MSN Live Local supplier in yesterday’s post.

Steven Lawler, GM of Virtual Earth, told me that Chicago is on the short-list of cities. Actually, new material can be added very rapidly using (even between releases) and in reality locations are generally added by county. Let’s hope MS Live Local promotes when new areas are placed into the system.

Lawler added that Virtual Earth now includes imagery from the USGS, Harris, Pictomery (the bird’s eye views), and others. He said that as of today about 25% of the U.S. has bird’s eyes views available and the orthography (overhead imagery) for areas that don’t have these views has also been added to and enhanced. Of course, how close you can zoom-in is determined by the location and imagery itself. Plans call for 90% of the U.S. to have bird’s eye imagery. However, no timeline was provided. New areas to fly and add to the database are determined by several factors including population and the amount of tourism an area receives. Yes, people like to see where they are going. (-:

While the oblique or “bird’s eye imagery” comes from Pictometry, the viewing and searching technology was built by Microsoft.

Lawler said that they are “actively flying right now” to get new imagery into the system. The late Autumn is a good time since in many areas, the leaves have fallen from the trees,” he added.

Eventually, plans call for these types of services available globally. In the mean time and speaking of globally, MS Live Local from MSN Virtual Earth has added global imagery to the database from Harris. You can read more about it in this news release.

“The 15-meter Global Dataset produces gorgeous imagery that will be a perfect addition to the visualization applications in Microsoft’s Virtual Earth…Features of imagery available through 15-meter Globe Dataset include advanced tonal balancing of realistic earth colors resulting in true-life visual scenarios.”

I’ve found since this data is so new that the best way to find this imagery is begin with a map of the globe and then zoom-in to the location you want. I hope Microsoft adds global locations to their search database soon along with more detailed imagery. As an example, here’s an image of Germany and environs.

Bird’s eye Imagery
Ok, now for what you’ve been waiting for a look at what I have to say is some cool stuff. The oblique and “bird eye” views that Live Local provides. I can’t say enough times that the best way to become familiar with this is to use it. It’s easy.

Here we go:

1) Enter a location where bird’s eye imagery is available.
2) In the “where box” I’m going to enter the space needle, Seattle, a
3) A box appears labeled “1” with links to zoom, get directions, and/or email a link to the location/image.
4) Now,on the left side of the page note the top box. From here you’re able to click and see the aerial view link (what you should be seeing), view a road map, OR click for “Bird’s Eye.”
5) You should also spot a slider to zoom-in or out, a box to toggle labels (streets, etc), and direction arrows.
6) So, go ahead and click “Bird’s Eye.”
7) Wow!
8) Now a new image should appear, it’s so clear and a new set of boxes on the left side of the page.
9) The direction arrows allow you to look in any direction you select. Note, as you select a direction new thumbnails appear. Click North!
10) You’ll also notice a box with two icons. The smaller one offers a smaller image (duh) while the larger one really provides detail.
11) Of course, you can move around by dragging your cursor over the page
12) Right clicking on any image gives you the option to add a push-pin or get directions to that specific location, an address is not required, very useful.
13) From the VE Blog: “Remember that in Birds eye mode you can ROTATE your view optically to really check out an area. You do this by clicking the rotation arrows in the navigation panel. Almost all of the places where we have birds eye imagery will have rotated views available. if a particular orientation isn’t available, it will be grayed out.”

As you move around you can get a complete view of the area. You can use the scratch pad to take you back to your original location.

OK, now it’s your turn. I’ll leave you with three bird’s eye images:
+ this one of the Horeshoe Falls at Niagara Falls
+ The Bellagio Hotel and The Strip in Las Vegas
+ Part of the tarmac at Los Angeles International Airport (LAX). Move around to see more.

Fast Facts and Thoughts
+ A a question I received. Downloads are required to view “bird’s eye” imagery.

+ Notes to MS: What about placing a date the image was taken on each image? Also, would it be possible to see the various views in larger thumbnails. Right now, it’s tough to review.

+ Virtual now redirects to this new site.

+ As noted earlier, driving direction are now available.

+ Contextually-based sponsored link(s) from Yahoo Search Marketing appear in box (right side of page) after search.

+ Labels (aka hybrid view) of street and key locations can be toggled on and off from the “help box” located on the right side of page. That’s also where you’ll find arrows to move imagery and slider to zoom in and out. Of course, you can also drag maps to new location.

+ Searching is straightforward and nothing we haven’t seen before. Search by company name, business category, and/or location (street name, address, Zip). You can also search by just entering a specific location (Space Needle) or street address.

+ The MS Live “Location Finder” has been updated and can be downloaded. It will use either Wi-Fi or your ISP to help find your present location. This service has been available prior to today. You can also use the service without a download and find your location via IP. When trying to locate via IP it was very general. Just about the entire Chesapeake region was shown. The location finder is the one and only service that requires ActiveX. So, my experience with it was better with IE than with Firefox.

+ Add push-pins anywhere on an image/map by right clicking.

+ Your personal scratch pad remembers where you’ve been and makes returning a click away. It’s still possible to mail and/or blog your pad.

Posctscript: For some thoughts about this and similar services, see the conclusion of my post from yesterday. Cool, ABSOLUTELY! But will the imagery or any other aerial imagery help my sister find and select a shoe store? Of course, this technology has applications in many areas like weather forecasting, real estate, urban development, emergency services, etc.

Postscript 2: More things to look at. Another company that is doing work in geographical imagery is Skyline Software. Download their TerraExlporer app (free) and flyover and various cities around the globe and look at building and other locations from various angles.

Postscipt 3: Aerial imagery can be useful when buying a home. Take a look at Listings, info on what homes in an area just sold for, local data and more. Blog post here.

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