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Google ups ante in mapping rivalry

Company unveils hybrid mapping site on heels of MSN's Virtual Earth, in heated battle for localized search. MSN, Google label Earth

In the fast-moving war over localized search, Google wasted no time on Monday responding to Microsoft MSN's Virtual Earth test site with a new "hybrid" site of its own that lets people see an aerial view of a location with superimposed road maps.

"Can't decide between looking at a map of your house or a photo of your house? See both at once with Google Maps' new Hybrid mode, available in the U.S., Canada, the U.K. and Japan," Google's blog says.

The new Google Hybrid map page lets users see map data, such as street names, on top of satellite photos of the locations they search.

Earlier on Monday, MSN unveiled its new Virtual Earth location-based search tool that combines aerial imagery, maps and yellow-pages data. It features a scratch pad for saving search data and a "Locate Me" feature that determines the user's location using Wi-Fi access points or Internet Protocol address geocoding.

However, as Gary Price, news editor of Search Engine Watch, pointed out, TerraFly has offered search of location with street names and other data overlayed on top of satellite imagery in the United States for years.

Google launched its 3D mapping service, which combines local search and satellite images, late last month, after disclosing the technology in April.

Microsoft Chairman Bill Gates previewed MSN's satellite mapping technology in May.

Google, Microsoft and Yahoo are all hoping developers will create applications to run on top of their mapping platforms to attract more consumers. Google and Yahoo said they were opening up their application programming interfaces to that end, but so far Google has wooed the most code tinkerers.

The search providers are in a heated battle for the hearts and minds of the millions of Web surfers who log onto the Internet each day. Localized search is a particularly intense area of competition, with the companies racing to outdo each other in offering the slickest way to find places of interest that are nearby.