Google, Yahoo offer peek at mapping code

The two companies hope to encourage developers to create new apps to expand search. Also: Amazon launches mapping service.

Google and Yahoo began sharing the code that runs their mapping services with outside developers this week in the hopes that programmers will create new applications to expand the range of Internet search and satellite-based maps.

The two companies are unleashing application programming interfaces (APIs) to encourage developers to create programs that let people search for specific information that will be displayed using the mapping software.

Google's Maps API is a free toolkit that developers can embed in their own Web pages with JavaScript. It is open to commercial and noncommercial Web sites that are free to consumers, Google said. "Google will include the Google logo on the map, a link back to Google Maps, and may show ads in the future on the maps," the company said in a statement.

Yahoo Maps API offers free access to Yahoo's SmartView Technology that will allow developers to create customized maps by overlaying content onto an existing Yahoo map, "including weather reports, school district boundaries, open houses, garage sales, vacation photos," according to the company.

Even before Google's announcement, developers had figured out ways to add new data to Google Maps. Examples include HousingMaps.com, which shows available housing in two dozen or so different U.S. and Canadian cities; a U.K. Web site that displays local traffic conditions; and ChicagoCrime.org, which searches for specific crimes and their whereabouts in the city.

Also this week, Amazon.com's A9.com search business launched its mapping service which integrates photos taken of businesses from trucks equipped with global positioning systems. The "block view" allows users to see storefronts from the street level.

"It's a neat experience and a nice interface--certainly a lot of fun," Greg Linden, founder and CEO of personalized news site Findory.com who previously worked on Amazon's recommendation engine, wrote in his Geeking with Greg blog.

"Whether it is practical or not, I'm not so sure...I was disappointed to find that A9 Maps had no coverage of the neighborhoods around the two examples I tried," he wrote.

Microsoft is getting into mapping, too. Microsoft Chairman Bill Gates previewed MSN Virtual Earth satellite mapping technology at a conference in May. Microsoft is using high-resolution global satellite image data supplied by Orbimage.

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