Yahoo! announced yesterday on their corporate blog that they had added satellite imagery to their mapping service. The images cover the lower 48 states and offers "medium" level resolution for the rest of the world. The new feature is also available through Yahoo!'s API and the Yahoo! Developer Network so that mashup creators can being hacking Yahoo! data in much the way that they currently hack Google Maps data.

The image options work much the same as they do on Google Maps. The image starts out in standard road map view and allow users to switch to either satellite view or a hybrid of the satellite and the road map. Yahoo!'s mapping feature also allows for the overlay of traffic updates on the information, which is well demonstrated with this view of the Empire State building.

That said, the interface for the system is still fairly clunky. Addresses are added in a window to the left and are replaced with directions once the route is run. That wouldn't be a bad thing, except that users can expand and collapse the data without any real direction on how to do so. Also, when creating a set of directions, the system sometimes automatically assumes that you want to enter more than two destinations rather than making point A to point B style mapping the default. This can be confusing as an option for a third location pops up as soon as you enter your first two locations.

Additionally, simply navigating around the actual map can be difficult. While the maps can be clicked on and dragged in any direction, much like Google's system, a large portion of the map is taken up by a smaller window that shows a higher level view of your location. This sounds good in theory, but it makes it very difficult to really good a good view of the map, especially when a user zooms in to street level views.

Another problem is that the zoom is controlled by a sliding bar that appears next to the small window. When a user moves the sliding bar, the view in the small window begins to change, but the main window doesn't change until after the small window. In other words, it's very difficult to get a real idea of exactly how much you are zooming in or out while using the slider. Since there are no markers along the side of the slider, it's also impossible to know that you prefer a certain level view and to be able to jump straight there.

Overall, the system is an improvement in that the addition of the satellite images are essential for keeping pace with the other major engines. That said, there still seems to be room for improvement when it comes to the usability of the tool.

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April 12, 2006

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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