MSN Opens Local Search & Aerial Mapping

MSN Search has just released a local search tool (beta) for the U.S. MSN Local Search is accessible via a link on the MSN Search home page or via this direct link.

Basics
Search by entering your keywords (name, business category) along with a location (Chicago, IL).
For example: automobile dealers, Chicago IL.

You can run a local search directly from the MSN Search homepage by entering your search and clicking the “Local” search tab. If you don’t specify a location here, MSN Local Search uses the default location entered in the “location” box on the MSN Search settings page.

MSN Local Search evolves out of the ?Near Me? feature that debuted on MSN Search last year and allowed consumers to receive search results tailored to a specific location. Chris discusses it in this SearchDay article.

MSN Local Search results pages consist of:
+ Listings (Name, Address, Phone Number). Each listing is given a letter that corresponds to a “numbered pin” on a map (using MSN MapPoint technology) for easy identification.

Similar to what Google Maps and Maps24.com offer, you can change locations on a map by simply dragging the map to a new location. Note to MSN: I think an option to make the map larger would be useful, similar to what’s available on Maps.msn.com. You can also zoom in or out or move to a new location by clicking.

+ Along with maps, aerial images are available for most locations. You can toggle between a map and an aerial image via a link located directly above the map or image. You can move to a new location by simply dragging. Aerial imagery is powered by TerraServer-USA. TerraServer is operated by Microsoft as a research project for developing advanced database technology. The images themselves come from a variety of sources including the U.S. Geological Survey.

+ In addition to local listings, results pages also contain 10 results from the MSN web database and keyword advertising if available.

+ You can also search by phone number.

Odds and Ends
+ In some cases, up to three local listings will appear at the top of a web search results page along with a direct link to access more results.

+ MSN Local remembers the last geo location searched for. So, if you first search for “hotels buffalo, NY” and then want to immediately find restaurants in Buffalo, you don’t need to reenter the location.

+ This help page provides info about removing or modifying a listing from the database, search tips, and more.

Finally
Tonight’s announcement from MSN Search also formally welcomes MSN Virtual Earth to the MSN Search team. It notes that the new service will go live, later this calendar year.” What’s Virtual Earth? More here and here.

Btw, what’s old is new again and this time it’s hot. A couple of years ago, MapQuest provided (PDF) aerial/satellite images from GlobeXplorer linked to every location in the MapQuest database. No one seemed to care. Now, post-Google satellite/aerial imagery, this type of material has captured the attention of many researchers.

Postscript: Four other tools that might be of interest.
+ TerraFly
Satellite and aerial imagery PLUS local information (census data, schools, nearby cities, and much more). Overview here.

+ World Wind from NASA
Manipulate satellite and aerial imagery. Free download. Data comes from a number of repositories including TerraServer. Overview here.

+ Want to access aerial imagery direct from a USGS database for free? Start here.

+ 192.com provides free access to aerial imagery for many UK locations.

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