Bing Maps Adds Map App Ratings, Map Overlays and More

The evolution of Bing Maps continues with another round of improvements. For the June 2010 release we’re focusing on Bing Map Apps, improving the user experience and exposing some new content layers. You can check out the new features in our Silverlight site which has continued to be an incredible test bed for innovation. And, speaking of Silverlight, with this Bing Maps release we’ve built everything on Silverlight 4, so get ready for some cutting edge maps technology coming this week, but for a sneak peak check out the Bing Maps Preview site.

Here’s a list of new features you can check out in Bing Maps:

Bing Map App Ratings Bing Map App Ratings – For those of you not familiar with Bing Map Apps, you should check out any of my posts describing the concept of building applications that access data via web services from around the web and using Bing Maps as the canvas to visualize them. Not to be confused with the Bing Maps Platform which allows you to add Bing Maps to your site, Bing Map Apps allow you to highlight your data on Bing Maps. There are quite a few map apps available today and now you as a user can rate them! Using the standard 5-star rating system (including half stars) you can voice your opinion on an application. To rate a map app just run the app then hover over the stars on the map app card or flyout and click to rate. Note: you can only rate an app once. You can also sort Bing Map Apps by rating now. So, if you only want to see map apps that the community likes the new filter will pull up only those respective apps. All of this, of course, is setting the stage for the introduction of the Bing Map App SDK which was also released today. Read more about that in my other blog post.

Photosynth Panoramas – Are you familiar with Microsoft Research’s Image Composite Editor (ICE)? How about Photosynth? Did you hear we brought the two together? That’s right – you can take large, gigapixel panoramas from ICE and publish them to Photosynth. And, since Photosynth allows you to geotag your synths and those geotagged synths get pulled into Bing Maps, you can effectively pull ICE panoramas into Bing Maps! Hot. No, cool! The ICE synths will be displayed in Bing Maps via the Photosynth Map App. You can view a full list of ICE panoramas on the Photosynth site. Read more about this on the Photosynth blog.

Bing Maps, Photosynth, Image Composite Editor (creator: Mqahishasura)

Map Overlays – We’re taking our first stab at trying out some map overlays. The idea of these map overlays is to provide users with additional context of a larger map location such as a mall or theme park. With this release we’ll have overlays for The Woodland Park Zoo, The Seattle Art Museum, Discovery Park, The Seattle Arboretum, The Center for Urban Horticulture and The Bravern (the cozy little mall we work in). It’s a great reference and for certain searches we provide store level accuracy about where in the mall the actual store is – now that’s some high precision geocoding! To enable the feature, you simply search for one of these locations and select the respective location – Bing Maps will zoom down a bit closer. In the left hand navigation, you’ll see a link to "See Attractions" or "See Mall Directory" (the text will vary based on the venue). Click the link and the map overlay will appear with a few (or all) of the listings clickable for you to see exactly where in the venue to find what you’re looking for. That is the whole point of maps right? To find what you’re look for. Bing!

Bing Maps Map Overlays

Bing Maps Action Bar Action Bar – The Action Bar is the set of buttons along the lower left corner of Bing Maps which provide shortcuts to functionality native within Bing Maps. First, you’ll notice we’ve added a splash of color to liven things up. Next, we’ve added a Traffic button since traffic is one of the most commonly used features on Bing Maps. We’ve changed the "Legend" button which provided users with the ability to see active map data layers and remove them as needed. The Legend button is now called "History" and is both a history of your map data layers, as well as an interactive tool for enabling and disabling the different map layers you’re interacting with. Users can now turn on a number of previous searches or disable them as desired simply by checking the box next to the item.

Reverse Address Lookup – Ever wondered what business was at a specific address? Or, just wanted to verify that the business your searching for is at the actual address you have in hand? Wonder no more. For U.S. business listings, you can now search for an address and we’ll tell you the business at that address. Just enter an address in the search box and the businesses at that address will appear in the search results.

Right-Click Menu – Since we’ve upgraded our site to Silverlight 4 with this release we’re taking advantage of one of the most requested features – right-click support. Now, you get a full menu of options when you right-click on a location in Bing Maps. Want to drop a pin on a location? Right-click. Want to get directions to or from a specific location? Right-click. The right-click menu allows you to right-click anywhere are you’ll see the address reversed (based on the pixel you selected). Oh, and how about right-clicking on a location and jumping down into Streetside. It does that too. It’s like a food processor – it does it all!

Full Screen Maps – Silverlight also has a feature that lets users go full screen with their applications. Now, I’m not talking about the F11 button which takes away the chrome from the browser. I’m talking about a full screen, exclusive map. No chrome. No search box. Just a big, beautiful map. And, don’t forget about imagery – they look just as beautiful. I can finally get all of Petco Park (in all its glory) in one giant screen grab without having to zoom out and sacrifice the image quality. To go full screen, you’ll want to click the BingMapsRelease_June2010_6 symbol (four arrows) in the upper right hand corner.

BingMapsRelease_June2010_5

Breadcrumb – A nice touch to further understanding where in the world you are when you’re looking at a map is the new Breadcrumb feature. The Breadcrumb lets you see the highest zoom level geographic boundary you’re looking at. For example, if you’re zoomed into the above picture of Petco Park, the Breadcrumb will show you that you’re in San Diego, San Diego (county), California, United States, World. All of these entity types are clickable so you can quickly zoom out to whichever level you want.

Brandfinder – About 5 years ago (back in the Virtual Earth days), we instituted Brandfinder (formerly Highlighted Listings) – a program that allowed businesses to get more from their brand out of Bing Maps search results. Brandfinder was offered as an advertising campaign which replaced the generic color pushpins with branded icons. The campaign also inserted branded logos inline with the search results, plus allowed the campaign owner to insert custom data into the pushpin popup, such as links to specific pages, logos, hours, etc. So, doing a search for "Gap in New Orleans"  shows a couple things: (1) 2 results are shown on the map (no link overload – following the Bing mantra); (2) the 2 results are Gap and Banana Republic (owned by Gap), so the search heuristics are built to understand what you’re looking for without giving you data overload; and, (3) a branded Gap experience on Bing Maps. Well, we weren’t taking on new Brandfinder customers…until now. If you’re interested in getting your branded icons on the map, send mail to maplic@microsoft.com and we’ll get you hooked into the program.

Bing Maps Highlighted Listings 

Good stuff and only a milestone in the continuous evolution of Bing Maps. There were several other announcements today, so you’ll want to check out all of the posts on my blog.

CP – Follow me on Twitter @ChrisPendleton

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