Google today unveiled a localised version of its popular Google Maps service, confirming what people in the software industry have been expecting for some time.
I wrote last week about my views on the efforts of the web giants to localise their offerings - from the Flickr and Yahoo/Xtra triangle to Youtube and MSN. None of those websites have fired here yet.
Google is different. Localising what is already there has had a major impact on the online advertising market through increased use locally of Adwords - (some companies I know count Adwords as their main advertising tool) and Google's New Zealand-specific search engine is the best way of searching locally indexed web pages.
Google Maps is likely to be similarly useful and already a few searches have offered proof of that. We had Google maps of New Zealand before, but now we have integration with business directory Finda.co.nz (a division of Herald publisher APN). Businesses can also plot their locations on the maps for free.
I just plugged "Cuba Street" into Google Maps. Instantly I had a bird's eye view of the map covering Wellington's bohemian shopping district. I clicked on the tab "Find Businesses" and typed in "petrol". Dozens of petrol stations were listed with their locations plotted on the map. I then had the option of plotting a route to a selected gas station. Simple, informative and useful.
Having good-quality local listings integrated with the mapping suddenly Google Maps a heck of a lot more useful for Kiwis. Adwords is available on Google Maps, so a Ponsonby restaurant can now broadcast deals that will appear on the map when someone searches for restaurants in Ponsonby.
I can see that being useful.
There are some other decent features in there. The MyMaps service lets you mark maps with photos, icons, even Youtube videos. Mapplets has endless potential letting you add third party content to Google's maps. There are so many businesses that could make good use of this, plotting delivery routes and client locations. Obviously, satellite and terrain views are also still available.
You can also use Google Maps on a mobile phone by pointing the phone's browser to www.google.co.nz/gmm. I'm using Google Maps on a Pocket PC device with reasonable results, though I much prefer the service's presentation on my iPhone. I'll be trying some regular handsets in the next few days.
So what does Google Maps arrival mean for the dominant local Web 2.0 map provider, ZoomIn?
"We've been expecting Google to enter the market for some time," said John Clegg of Project X Technology, ZoomIn's creator.
"They have been looking for suppliers for local content for a while. We think it will be good for the market as they have a good product and it is good for the profile of dynamic mapping."
Clegg said he doesn't see Google Maps as a direct threat, or local map provider Wises for that matter.
"ZoomIn is focused more at the community. Our community functionality is directly integrated into ZoomIn, unlike Google where they are bolted on the side."
That may be the case, but Google's power lies in Adwords and the Finda link-up and while ZoomIn has been building a community of users who plot photos and reviews of bars on the maps that's not where the money is - it's in businesses advertising to put their brand and deals on the map. ZoomIn's commercial future would seem to me to lie in doing a deal with Vodafone or Telecom to become the provider of mobile mapping and location based services for either of the carriers.
"As a company, we look at maps a base layer and we're now focused on how you can use maps to communicate. Our work on the Broadband demand map for Digital Strategy is an example," said Clegg.
The Broadband Map is a mash-up based on ZoomIn mapping that plots the networks of the major telecommunications players and allows people to comment about broadband performance in their area. It was created in partnership with the State Services Commission. Clegg said it had led Project X to develop a couple of business-focused products that would be released shortly.
I think there is room for both players and I hope ZoomIn continues to thrive. But Google has definitely gone about localising Google Maps the right way, making its maps useful from the outset.
What do you think of Google's New Zealand mapping foray? Do you use online maps to find locations? What about ZoomIn? Does the community aspect of sharing content based on maps interest you?
* Visit Google Maps New Zealand