RealTime IT News

MSN Feels 'Virtual Earth' Move

Microsoft's Virtual Earth search beta is causing a virtual quake among Internet map users, as more cartography fans are going digital than ever before.

The launch of its satellite mapping site made MSN Maps and Directions the number one mover in week-over-week unique audience growth during the last week of July, according to Internet media and market research firm Nielsen//NetRatings.

Two weeks ago, MSN Maps and Directions launched its highly anticipated Virtual Earth site, which allows visitors not only to map specific locations, but also to view those locations via satellite photos.

The result has been a marked increase in visitors to its site, from 438,000 at home viewers during the week ending July 24, to 1.2 million during the most recent week. Those viewing from the office also showed significant growth. Audience traffic increased from 845,000, to 1.4 million weekly visitors.

That is 175 percent in home usage, and 71 percent at work.

Virtual Earth, offered free as part of MSN, integrates with the local features of MSN Search, MapPoint technologies and aerial imagery from TerraServer-USA and provides users with expansive search results.

Gerry Davidson, senior media analyst for Nielsen//NetRatings, said people are fascinated with the new technology and its ability to combine up-close satellite imagery with local search capabilities.

Google Maps also enjoyed a week-over-week growth albeit a smaller one, according to Nielsen//NetRatings.

The search company saw a 24 percent jump at home, and 33 percent at work, nearly two weeks after the launch of its satellite Internet application Google Earth Google Earth at the end of June.

Those numbers translate into 2.5 million unique visitors at home, and 2.7 million unique visitors at work.

The free downloadable tool from both companies has been impressing bigger audiences with tools detailing street-level maps and point-of-interest information throughout the United States. Viewers can pan and zoom crisp images along particular travel routes or visit detailed photos of cities, for example.

Davidson said satellite mapping captivates a substantial audience because people are curious to see familiar places from a dramatic perspective.