imageSoftware engineers tend to spend a lot more time working out at the driving range than they do the putting green. Left on our own we'd all be working on stuff like 3D Birds Eye navigation or robotic building modeling; doing a local search for a coffee shop would require first getting strapped up like this Microsoft Researcher to the right so that we could predict where you wanted to find it and if you prefer decaf. Fortunately our team is lead by a seasoned cast of veteran cat herders who continuously remind us how important it is to be creating and improving the core features you use everyday at our site - driving directions, geocoding, map navigation, local search... else you might not want to return to explore Collections and create 3D tours.

When we launched the Gemini release of Live Search Maps last week there was plenty of coverage of the new gee-wiz features like 3D modeling. Now I present to you my list of the top 10 improvements aimed at delighting you; features that quietly improve your daily experience and at the same time make the more talked about features really shine. To go with another sports analogy, I present to you the starting offensive line of Live Search Maps

*1. Rolled up routes or Abbreviated Directions. I guess I don't really know what to call it, I justimage wonder why no one thought of it sooner. The idea here is that you are usually familiar with either the start or end of your route and don't need to take a giant printout with you of all of the steps telling you how to get from your house to the highway.* For instance, here is a route from University Gardens to Reagan Airport in DC. If you live in University Gardens, the first 9 of these 16 steps are burned into your head already and just get in the way when you're in the car. the final steps are the ones you really need and would normally be printed on a second sheet of paper. Live Search Maps now lets you 'roll up' the starting steps, greatly simplifying your route instructions as seen here and prints nicely on a single sheet of paper.

2. Improved Directions Printing. When printing your routes to take with you in the car, a number of imageimprovements were made to improve readability as well as the instructions themselves. The most obvious are the font, color, and grouping changes but it goes much further. My favorite is the "You've gone too far if..." hint. When one person gives directions to another, its very natural to say something like "if you hit Thomas Street you went too far". As you can see in this route, Live maps is now doing the same thing, telling you "The last intersection is E Olive Way. If you reach E Thomas St, you've gone too far". Also, we've added highway shields and turn icons to the printout that are easy to see at a glance while driving.



image3. Category Browsing in an Unfamiliar area. If you're traveling to a new city one of the first things you might do is enter the city name to get a map. But what next? Chances are that you want to explore the area and see what businesses are nearby. In this version of Live Maps we've added Yellow Page category browsing and put it right on the result panel after doing a location search. You can dive into the most popular yellow page categories or click 'Browse all categories' to drill in from the top of the category hierarchy. The count of businesses in each category is updated as you move around the map. For instance, after a search for Topeka, KS I selected Restaurants and then barbeque to see business listings for BBQ places. Above the results is a 'breadcrumb trail' that helps you walk back up the category hierarchy; in this link you can see I stepped all the way back to the top, then drilled into Health and Beauty -> Doctors and Clinics -> Pediatricians.


4. Ghost nodes while drawing lines and shapes.* When Google came out with their implementation of Live Search Maps' Collections a few months back (known as My Maps) they added a very nifty editing imagefeature we hadn't thought of. I liked it so much that I offered a congratulatory beer to the engineer that came up with it; an offer that was never taken up but still stands We've added the feature (which I dubbed ghost node editing) to this release and made some enhancements of our own making re-shaping a line or polygon smooth like butter. In edit mode when you hover over a line segment a ghosted node appears and follows your mouse. Just click at the place you want to split the segment and drag the new node. You can reshape a polygon so quickly and accurately that it won't seem like work anymore. Another fabulous but often overlooked feature in this area is the real-time distance tooltip while drawing that lets you know how big your object is. For polygons we also show you the area of your shape when you are done editing - even for complex geometries.

image5. Severe Traffic indication. We've added a 4th class of traffic speed to the overlay of traffic flow indicating a complete log jam. Previously we had green, yellow and red highlighting to indicate traffic speeds. But feedback from users was that the red category (0 to 15 mph) was too large and in fact there's a big difference in being caught in traffic that isn't moving at all versus at least rolling along at 10mph. So black was born and now indicates where you'll be completely camped out while red is at least crawling.

6. Subscribe to changes in a KML file via RSS. Earlier this year we introduced a feature to enable imageyou to pluck an RSS feed for a Collection for use in your news reader of choice. All of the convenience of staying up to date on your favorite blogs brought to spatial data! With this release we've extended this support to KML files hosted on the web. Best of all, using it is identical to plucking a feed for a Collection. Once added to your news reader, you'll be alerted whenever the author of the original KML makes edits or additions to their* file. Best illustrated with an example. Here is a KML file showing the location of moon trees planted in the US. When the KML viewer opens you can click the subscribe button to grab its RSS feed and add it to your newsreader. [like this] behind the scenes, what is served out is the GeoRSS flavor of RSS so your KML subscription is viewable in traditional readers as well as those with explicit support for Geography! When the author adds or edits the original file, changes will show up at the top of the news feed.

7. Force Feedback with XBOX controller. If you use the XBOX controller to fly through VE3D maps, you’ll now notice that if you bump into buildings or the ground the controller vibrates. This is especially handy when you back into something.

8. Category Sensitive Details page. Each business listing at Live Search Maps has a details page that acts like a 'homepage' for the business, displaying a summary of everything we know about it. Basic address/phone number info, storefront photos, ratings & reviews, 1-click directions (party maps) and much more, all laid out in a really crisp style.* There's also a bunch of information about the business that has been crawled from the web or supplied directly to us from partnersimage like Judy's Book and CitySearch. All together it adds up to a very exhaustive look at the business that should prove really helpful when making a choice among many options. My favorite addition to the details page is the category specific information provided by InfoUSA, Expedia, WCities and others. To view this info click the 'expand' links like the one shown here. Some of the categories that have this feature include:

  • Dentists - Number of chairs, patients seen each week, Medical School...
  • Hotels - direct reservation links, price range, hotel class, nearest airport code, ...
  • Doctors - gender, size of practice, number of staff...
  • Restaurants - average price, reservation info, outdoor seating...


9. Traffic sensitive routing. when you live in a congested city like LA or Seattle being able to imagegenerate driving directions that take you around the traffic can have huge benefits. We introduced real-time traffic flow overlays in Live Search Maps last year which is helpful and now we've taken it a big step further. instead of just showing you the hotspots along with a route that takes you right through them, we can now automatically route you around the traffic. In areas where we have real-time traffic information check the 'route based traffic' option as shown to the left and we'll take care of the rest.

10. Transparent Buildings. The ability to share tours of your Collections is a great new feature in this release. If your tour happens to take the viewer through one of our densely populated 3D cities chances are that some of the textured buildings will get in the camera path that you want to fly the user through. The 3D team came up with a really clever solution to this problem - buildings that find themselves in the camera's path ghost out temporarily, becoming semi-transparent as the camera approaches and flys through. its a wonderful subtle effect that greatly improves the tour experience. You can see this in the screen capture below or you can grab the full resolution video from my SkyDrive here to view it yourself.


There's more I'd like to get to, but I'll save it for a future post and keep this list to 10. Although the Gemini release is only 1 week old, we're already deep into work on the next release. We hope while you are enjoying all of the new stuff in the latest Live Search Maps that you'll take a moment to provide feedback and your wishlist for future versions. post your feedback in comments here or email me directly at SteveLom (at) microsoft d com.

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