Search giant Google has merged two of its Web destinations, Google Maps and Google Local, a sign online mapping features are of growing importance to the search industry.
Google Local searches based on a type of goods or service and a location. Google Maps provides maps, driving directions and elements of Google Local information.
The changes allow Google to better combine the once separate features, the same rationale Google competitor Yahoo cited when it did the same thing with its local and maps search products earlier. But theres "no whiz bang new hybrid feature" to report yet, said Google product manager Bret Taylor. There are some minor changes, however, including customer reviews and credit cards that a business accepts now available by clicking on a Google Maps icon, Taylor said.
With the shift, the two services that were once featured on separate Web pages emerges from "beta", a label used to warn people that a particular software or service is still a work in progress.
People typically use the two services in tandem, Taylor said, with visits first to Google Local to find a nearby business, and then Google Maps for directions, or a map of the business location.
The changes at Google and Yahoo highlight the growing popularity of Internet-based maps. Googles new look Google Local comes after competitors Yahoo Inc. and Ask Jeeves made similar moves earlier, according to Greg Sterling, an analyst with The Kelsey Group.
"People wanted mapping to be more integrated in their search," Taylor said. "This really changes the local search paradigm. Plus, it was bad to make people go to multiple sites like that."
The moves also spotlight the intense battle for revenues from advertisements that accompany search results based on location. Revenues from geo-tracked advertisements should grow significantly over the next four years, reaching to an estimated $3.4 billion annually by 2009, compared to about $400 million this year, Sterling said.