Microsoft is kicking Bing Maps into a higher gear, announcing a beta version of Bing Maps that uses Silverlight to display 3D images and its own version of street-level images.
The company announced the new beta Wednesday amid a discussion of other improvements to Bing Thursday at its San Francisco offices in a presentation for the media. Bing Maps Beta is rolling out Thursday along with several other new features in the main Bing search results.
Bing Maps Beta requires Microsoft Silverlight to deliver very smooth three-dimensional transitions between satellite and street-view imagery. Like Google Street View, Microsoft has driven the streets of major cities such as San Francisco and assembled its own library of map-related images.
The new beta service can also find images of items inside popular destinations, such as art exhibits inside museums and other geotagged images available on the Internet through Microsoft Photosynth. Developers can also create Web applications to run inside the Bing Maps Beta, such as an application that works with Newseum to index local papers inside maps and let Bing users see the front pages of newspapers across the country.
In addition, Bing Maps Beta users will be able to see local tweets through a partnership with Twitter demonstrated during the event. Twitter recently rolled out a geolocation service.
Updated 11:29 a.m. PST: Microsoft has street-level imagery for around 100 U.S. cities, it said, and is adding more imagery on a constant basis.
Updated 12:28 p.m. PST: Microsoft also talked about new enhancements to Bing called "entity cards," which are sections on the top of a search results page that contain a mix of structured and crawled data on a given topic. For example, searching on "Coldplay" will bring up an official photo of the band with a link to their Web page, tour dates, additional photos, and other information all displayed before your eyes scroll down to the search results themselves.
Similar enhancements will appear on searches for specific cities, with photos and weather information, as well as searches for companies, where financial information and news will appear. At some point in the future, Microsoft also plans to let searches hook up with their Facebook accounts to search for photos, upcoming birthdays, and status updates.