Just last month I was speculating in an article on how great I thought it would be if Google would take the time to integrate Keyhole into their new mapping site. Now, I'm pretty sure that they didn't get the idea from me, but I am pretty happy to see that a "Satellite" option has been added to all map results.

Keyhole General Manager John Hanke pointed out the addition yesterday in an entry on the Google blog. Handke pointed out one of the many great uses for the feature by suggestion that travel planners might wish to use it to find out just how close their hotel location really is to local attractions. Does beachfront really mean right on the beach, or does it mean that somewhere, 10 miles in front of the hotel, is the ocean.

The images are not real-time, but they are fairly current. I checked out several local sites that I know are under construction, or that were recently under construction and had a hard time finding Columbus images that were older than a year or two. That's not bad for software that provides images of pretty much the entire United States and several other countries. The photographs vary in resolution with high population areas having close enough zoom features that you can locate a car and low population areas zooming only close enough to recognize highways or large landmarks.

Perhaps the niftiest feature is the ability to search for a location and then use the Google Map scrolling feature to find your way to another location. For example, I typed in my address, located my house, then scrolled the map down the street, made a right turn, followed that street for a ways and made a left turn. Another inch or two of scroll and there was the huge outdoor shopping center that I frequent. Granted, if I actually wanted directions to someplace, I'd be sticking with Google's line art mapping program simply because it's far easier to read and follow the roads without all those houses and trees present.

That said, there are still some practical applications for the integration. The first one that popped into my mind was shopping for a new home. What a fun way to find out if the home you're considering purchasing is near a school or major highway before even heading out to see it.

Keyhole had been offered as a subscription-only service up until the integration with Google Maps. According to the Keyhole web site, it's still for sale ($29.95 for a personal version) though it remains to be seen if anyone will make the purchase when they can gain many of the benefits by visiting Google. I suppose it's possible that Google will use the satellite imagery as a teaser to sell the real product. The personal edition of Keyhole offers the ability to tilt the view so that you can get an idea of the terrain along with allowing you to measure distances and fly from one location to another.

The move marks the next step in the competition for the best local search tool. A9 threw out a great challenge with the introduction of their "call this business" option and their database of business reviews, and Yahoo! and Ask Jeeves have both been hard at work improving their local search offerings. One thing is certain...each and every move in the local search wars provides bigger and better content options to searchers and there's certainly nothing wrong with that.

Discuss this article in the Small Business Ideas forum.
April 5, 2005

Jennifer Laycock is the Editor of Search Engine Guide, the Social Media Faculty Chair for MarketMotive and offers small business social media strategy & consulting. Jennifer enjoys the challenge of finding unique and creative ways to connect with consumers without spending a fortune in marketing dollars. Though she now prefers to work with small businesses, Jennifer’s clients have included companies like Verizon, American Greetings and Highlights for Children.

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