Microsoft plans to announce its initial push into local search on Monday as it takes a step closer to launching a competitor to Googles online aerial maps.
The companys Internet division is expected to release a beta version of MSN Local Search. The service, which will be added as a link from the main MSN Search site, will provide geographically targeted search results about businesses and other local information, as well as online street and aerial maps pinpointing the results.
MSNs main competitors, Google, Yahoo and America Online Inc., already offer similar local listings, but MSN officials say they are already working on combining local search with more advanced online maps.
To that end, MSN is set to announce that it is merging the team building the MSN Virtual Earth service previewed by Microsoft Chairman Bill Gates last month with the MSN Search team.
MSN Virtual Earth lets consumers do virtual, aerial tours of multiple locations by layering multiple search results onto a map of aerial images, some of which will show locations at a 45-degree angle.
Virtual Earth, slated for a release later this year, in many ways appears similar to Googles upcoming service called Google Earth, a desktop client slated to replace Googles current Keyhole software. Google Earth is supposed to overlay local search and driving directions on top of a birds eye view of the world and allow users to view animated maps.
In a statement, Christopher Payne, the corporate vice president for MSN Search, said that the beta service is only the start of MSNs local-search ambitions.
“With the addition of MSN Virtual Earth we are poised to take local search to the next level,” he said.
For now, though, MSN is tapping business and residential directory information from Amacai Information Corp. to power the beta release of its local search.
MSN previously offered some limited, geographically targeted search results through a feature called “Near Me” in its overall Web search service. That feature retrieved results from the broad Web search that fit specific a specific locale.
In the beta service, online street maps from the Microsoft MapPoint service will display the location of local listings alongside local search results. For some of the results, MSN also will display aerial images being supplied by a project from Microsoft Research called TerraServer-USA.
TerraServer is an online database of U.S. maps and aerial photographs, which the Microsoft Researchs Bay Area Research Center built in partnership with the U.S. Geological Survey. MSN also plans to use TerraServers data as part of MSN Virtual Earth.
An MSN spokeswoman said that the company is expecting MSN Local Search to move out of beta by the end of the year.