Yahoo goes drag-and-drop for mapping

New Yahoo Maps beta is designed to ease finding local spots and creation of multiple-stop driving directions. Images: Yahoo Maps--a new world

Yahoo on Thursday released the public beta of its new Yahoo Maps service, which is designed to make maneuvering the map easier and allow users to quickly create multiple-point driving directions.

The upgraded Yahoo Maps is more tightly integrated with Yahoo Local, allowing users to quickly find, for instance, the locations of Mexican restaurants in a particular neighborhood by typing in things like "best margarita" or "outdoor seating" or other category types or descriptions.

In addition, users can now type in a business address and the service will display the business name, phone number, user rating and link to additional information.

The new service also aims to make it easy to map out driving directions with multiple stops, including the ability to drag-and-drop specific businesses into the route. The map is larger and includes a collapsible mini-map with a shadow box that can easily be dragged around to shift the neighborhood displayed in the larger map.

The service automatically stores frequently referenced destinations, which can also be set to automatically fill in a search box using a nickname. Users can click on the browser's "back" button to see the previous map action, and the map can automatically be configured for a printing layout.

"The interface is cleaner and better" than before, said Greg Sterling, an analyst at The Kelsey Group. "You can drag the map around without reloading it and the data changes as you drag it."

Yahoo also said it is releasing two new types of mapping application programming interfaces (APIs) designed to give developers more flexibility in creating applications that combine their own content with Yahoo maps.

Yahoo is offering Flash and Ajax programming versions of a Syndication API and a set of Building Block APIs for Yahoo Maps, which require more programming skills than the Simple Publishing API released in June, Yahoo said.

In addition, Yahoo is releasing an extension to the Simple Publishing API. The new downloadable Microsoft Excel plug-in creates a Web page with content from a developer's Excel spreadsheet onto a Yahoo Map to create a map mash-up without requiring any programming.

The Syndication and Building Block APIs will allow developers to embed a Yahoo map into their own Web page instead of having it hosted on the Yahoo Web page, Sterling said.

Google's mapping API has always allowed developers to host their mash-ups on their own Web sites, which partially explains why there are so many Google Maps mash-ups, he said.

"It's easy to plug in Google Maps and it was hosted on your site. Google lets you take and run with their maps and Yahoo until today did not," Sterling said. "This will boost Yahoo's (map) use on third-party sites."

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