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Live Search Maps v2 is out! Gemini Launches.
The first release of Live Search Maps went out in July 2005, internally known as 'Beagle'; our releases are alphabetical and named after ships, although I was wishing it was breeds of dogs which would have been more fun. Since then we have had a number of point releases (Calypso, Discovery, Endeavor and Falcon). Today our Gemini release officially went live. Although we don't give our website traditional version numbers, I think of Gemini as Live Maps 2.0. Just about everything has been touched in some way from client to server; the core search platform, routing engine and geocoding engines, parsers, browser chrome, data stores and content, content, content... We've also pushed a lot of your top feature requests and fixes through the grinder resulting in a new version of Live Search Maps that we're really proud to present; a release we hope will streamline your everyday mapping and local search tasks and wow you with some never before seen features that are just plain fun.
Some of my favorite new stuff includes the new Party maps, Birds Eye navigation in 3D, automatic routing around traffic, and data import including GeoRSS, GPX, and KML. And that just scratches the surface. You can jump right in and try it at http://maps.live.com or read on to get an overview of everything that's new. There's just too much to cover in one post so over the coming days I'll have a series of posts like this one covering more of the new features and diving deeper into the ones highlighted below.
Party Maps! More formally known as 1-Click Directions. Let's say you're having a party and sending invites to 50 people who each need directions. Party maps make it easy to send a single permalink that helps everyone get there. You see this commonly on car rental maps that have a section for returning your car - "If coming from the North, take I45 to exit 20. If coming from the east, take 90 to I45...". 1-Click Directions are provided on most businesses' details pages and you can also right-click at any arbitrary place on the map to dynamically create a party map to that point. Internally, the dev team really wanted to call this feature Party Maps but the level heads in our marketing department thought better of it :-)
Route Around Traffic. It's nice to be able to visualize where traffic is in real time on a map or to be told how long it is estimated you'll be stuck in that traffic. Furthering the evolution of online mapping tools to combat traffic, we've now introduced route calculation around traffic. Its a check box option you can toggle on after getting driving directions to recalculate the route to avoid jams. below are before and after shots showing this off. in the 'after' image I also turned on the traffic flow data to emphasize the re-routing.
Data Import. You can easily import data that you have on your computer into Collections. We support GeoRSS, GPX, and most flavors of KML. Once your data is imported, you can edit it further and share it just like any of your other Collections. If the data you want to import is on the web, you can specify the full URL as well. During import you can choose to append the imported data to an existing Collection or have a new Collection created. this makes it easy to build a Collection of your runs or hikes. Here's a GPX trail of a Swim in NY after import into a Collection. If all you want to do is view data without importing it, the 'mapurl' parameter should be all you need. you can specify a full path to geo data on the web to have it open on the viewer. here are 2 such links; the first is a KML file I read about on the Google Earth Blog about the International Polar Year. The second is a Geo-Biography of Neil Armstrong from Google's Keyhole BBS.
Birds Eye views in 3D. I posted a lot more on this feature earlier, including a video. mashing 3d textured buildings, satellite and birds eye imagery, this is the coolest Earth visualization in VE. Basically, as you navigate the virtual world the camera is snapped to the same parameters the real-world camera had at the time the scene was captured. As you rotate, you will first see virtual 3D buildings and terrain just as the corresponding scene is loaded and overlaid. if you are zoomed out past a single image, a series of white outlines hint at where to click to bring in a new image, very much like the Photosynth UI. smooth camera tweening links the scenes creating an amazing tapestry of the highest resolution aerial image online.
3D Tours and Videos of Collections. While editing your Collections you can now add special attributes to each item to enhance the viewing experience when you share the Collection with others. You can specify things like a preferred view, delay and animation for each item. As always, Collection items can have photos attached, notes, and web links. If you really want to blow the doors off, you can add your own textured buildings and other 3D accoutrements to the Collection (see below for details on 3DVia in Virtual Earth). After you are done editing, share your Tour with others by sending them the Collection URL. When they view the Tour in 3D they can control it with DVD style controls to pause, skip and randomly jump between items in the collection. They can pause the tour, interact with the map, and then resume playback. The red record button does just what you think - it saves a video of the tour to your local machine at 640X480 resolution, ready for upload to YouTube, Soapbox or any other video hosting service.
Here is a link to a simple demo Tour [video] to try out yourself. and below is a video touring Austin, TX after upload to YouTube. Note the nice effect in the Austin video when a building 'dims' to get out of the camera's way as you are flying around. For more on Collection Tours visit http://www.3dmaptour.com/ Please, don't try this on dial up as it can actually irreversibly harm your phone line and we can't be held responsible. ;-)
3D Modelling. We partnered with Dassault to create a new application to allow anyone to create 3D buildings and other objects in Virtual Earth. 3DVIA Technology preview allows you to create textured buildings and save them directly into your map Collections. This technology preview is the first 3D modeling offering between Dassault and Microsoft. We’re looking forward to community feedback from this release to help shape 3DVIA as it moves from technology preview to a first official release.
Collection Search and Explore. Two features I'm very excited about are Collection Search and Collection Explore. Our local search engine has indexed public Collections contributed by Live Maps community members like you, along with location based content found across the web at sites like Platial, the Keyhole BBS, and Google Maps. In aggregate, it becomes one of the largest indexes of user generated spatial content on the web. Gemini introduces 2 ways for you to explore this content. First is traditional search, most useful when you have a topic and location in mind. For instance enter "Art Deco in Miami Beach" in the search field, click the Collection scope below the field and hit Search. Your results will show art deco stuff aggregated from Live Search Collections as well as all of the previously mentioned crawled sources. If an item from a particular collection looks good, you can click to open the entire Collection on the Viewer. with your browsers back button, you can quickly move from search results to Collection details, then back to results... Collection surfing. its addictive.
Collection Explore works with the same library of content as search. To try it out, go to the Collection menu above the map and choose 'Explore' - a layer of all user contributed content is overlayed on the map. you can page through the results 30 at a time or pan your map and the result layer is refreshed as you surf. Try out Berlin in Explore mode. The Deutschland Panorama KML Collection looks good - click it's 'From:' link to open it on the viewer. Slick! even though its a collection created elsewhere on the web you can rate it, share it, tour it in 3d and even subscribe to a GeoRSS feed of it. if you're paying close attention, you just learned how to convert KML to GeoRSS and enabling you to add RSS feeds for your favorite KML files to your RSS reader. Much more on this feature area throughout the week. i speak from experience when I warn you how addicting collection surfing can become. when your eyes start to hurt, its time to go outside for awhile.
Enhanced Details Page. Each business listing at Live Search Maps has a details page containing all the bits of info we know about that business. Gemini introduces a metric ton of content on the details pages of many businesses, and in categories far beyond bars and restaurants. For instance, when searching for a dentist in Boston, clicking through to a particular listing will show details about each dentist like:
The details page contains user contributed reviews of the business, Store front photos, 1-click directions, related queries and much more. We've partnered with companies like InfoUSA, CitySearch, Gayot and many more to populate our knowledgebase of details for each business, putting all the info you need for a business in one convenient place. Here's the details page for Vincents, one of my favorite old school Italian Restaurants in New York. On the main tab note all of the expandable sections containing details provided by partners and crawled from the web.
This is already a pretty long post, so i'll cut it here. Check back often this week for much more coverage of the Gemini features or save yourself the bother and add the RSS feed to your reader.
Lastly a huge thanks to our talented operations team for once again rolling this release out with hardly a hitch. that's no small feat as the complexity and size of our Live Search Maps data center expands, today covering 100's of servers providing dozens of distinct services. And these talented men and women somehow make it look easy while not looking too terribly frazzled in the halls. Great job Ops! now its time to get out and work on your nerd-tans.