Mappoint—Hailstorm of Mapping World

Now that HailStorm-I mean .Net My Services-is on hold, Microsoft needs another offering to prove that its brand of Web services is viable. It may have found it with maps.

Now that HailStorm—I mean .Net My Services—is on hold (see www.eweek.com/links), Microsoft needs another offering to prove that its brand of Web services is viable. It may have found it with maps.

Truth be told, HailStorm got off to a rocky start and was barraged by a hailstorm of another variety, personified by Jonathan Schwartz, chief strategist at Sun. Schwartz argued effectively that HailStorm made Microsoft an intermediary in any business transaction that used the service.

Schwartzs point was a good one—and even Microsoft failed in its attempts to spin .Net My Services as a separate product that could be hosted by other companies.

Maps, however, are where its at. Mapping to most people means typing an address into MapQuest and getting a map back. Yahoos Maps—which until this year had a relationship with AOLs MapQuest—was another popular service. (Yahoo is now using its own mapping code based on maps from Navigation Technologies and Geographic Data Technology.)

Microsoft has its own brand of free maps and driving directions called MapPoint (www.mappoint.com). Microsoft, however, launched MapPoint as a Web service last September, and MapPoint .Net Version 2 was announced two weeks ago. The most interesting thing about this is that MapPoint may actually be the first "Web service" that makes money. Of course, MapPoint had made "money" from the Microsoft-specific services that use it, such as Carpoint and Expedia, but the money from those seems to be more of an internal accounting function.

The difference with MapPoint .Net Version 2 is the addition of a SOAP/XML interface, which allows any commercial company to use MapPoint as its own service. The first to sign up for MapPoint are TellMe Networks, which uses it to bring driving directions to cell phone users, and Zone Labs, a software firewall company that uses MapPoint to allow customers to plot out locations where attacks originate.

Eventually, well see MapPoint evolve into business intelligence solutions that have geocoding capabilities. These services are already available now—from companies such as BeyondGeo, QuestSoft and ESRI. As a Web service, however, MapPoint eliminates the need for CDs, never goes out-of-date and can interface more readily with most applications.

Now the big question is: Whats the fundamental difference between MapPoint and .Net My Services?

Doesnt MapPoint make Microsoft an intermediary—just like HailStorm? Send e-mail to john_taschek@ziffdavis.com.