Relaunched MapQuest still looks lost
Once upon a time, I could describe the folks behind MapQuest as "online cartography gods." And once upon a time, Bill Clinton was still the president and gas cost under $2 a gallon. (This particular story ran in 1997.)
Then AOL bought MapQuest, let its $1.1 billion purchase grow stale and even began stripping features out of that mapping site--just in time for Google to launch Google Maps and upend the entire Web-directions market.
At the end of June, MapQuest launched a redesigned version that it hopes will stop the bleeding and restore its relevance.
You may not have seen it yet. In late July, pulling up MapQuest's home page brought the same old cluttered design, with only an invitation at the top to try the new site. Clicking that brought up a notably cleaner site that lets a map take up most of the space.
You can switch between map and satellite views (but not the aerial photos offered by Bing), then click a button to overlay color-coded traffic indicators. A "360 View" button brings up MapQuest's equivalent of Google's Street View--but with far less coverage and longer load times.
MapQuest's search is far too literal. A query for "half smoke" brought up a list of businesses with "half" or "smoke" in their names, while the same search at Google yielded such local purveyors of the delicacy as Ben's Chili Bowl on U Street NW and Shirlington's Weenie Beenie.
MapQuest's directions work fine--if you're in a car. Otherwise, forget it: Its site doesn't offer walking, transit or bicycling directions (although its iPhone app will offer pedestrian guidance). It doesn't show subway stations by default--or even let you look them up by clicking one of the category buttons atop the map.
The site works, but it does so much less than Google Maps--which not only keeps evolving but also comes preinstalled on every iPhone and Android phone--it's hard to see how this site gets any traction. This could still work well for people trying to figure out how to get to AOL's campus out by Dulles Airport... but there are a lot fewer people heading there these days.
August 4, 2010; 8:11 AM ET
Categories: Location awareness , Search
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