MapQuest, still the mapping leader with 48 million monthly uniques, has been coasting for some time. But that changed a couple of weeks ago when it redesigned and launched a new-look beta product. At the time I spoke at some length with product VP Mark Law who said that the new beta was “just the beginning” of an ambitious product roadmap that would see many changes and announcements in the coming months.
Yesterday I spoke to Law again and he introduced me to a very interesting and exciting product — MapQuest Local (or LocalQuest):
Call it a “local portal” (portal is a problem term) or local “start page” or personal “local dashboard.” Regardless, this is perhaps the most interesting thing MapQuest has ever done IMHO. And right now this is a unique product in the market. (Spint’s XOHM is doing something conceptually similar, and there’s another publisher with a similar idea.)
All the content widgets can be customized and easily manipulated by users. Functionally it’s ike MyYahoo! or iGoogle or NetVibes, but all the content is local:
- Gas prices
Some of the content is from AOL, much of the content — and increasingly more over time — will be from third parties. News is provided by Topix for example. Here’s what AOL says about its strategy in the release:
MapQuest Local is built on an open platform that enables the integration of third-party feeds from local businesses, news providers, event guides, social networking sites, and other content providers. Content providers interested in providing locally relevant content to MapQuest’s monthly audience of more than 47 million consumers, can go to http://developer.mapquest.com/localquest for more information on submitting a feed.
In a way then this is like Facebook platform for local (except there’s no development required here). Mark Law said that anyone and everyone can build a module or widget for MapQuest Local. Today customization looks like this:
Clicking the “customize this page” button opens a drop-down menu:
One could logically imagine this simple menu quickly being replaced by a gallery of branded publisher widgets, like the iPhone Apps store or Yahoo! Search Monkey gallery.
This quickly becomes a distribution platform or way to drive traffic to local publisher sites. There’s no reason why, for example, Yelp, Loladex, Krillion, Praized, Outside.in, Loopt or anyone in local couldn’t or wouldn’t tap into MapQuest’s traffic. Indeed, Law told me that AOL wants local publishers and sites to think this way (see the developer link.)
This third party content makes the site and options much richer and better for users. MapQuest Local could also easily include coupons, classifieds, travel, product search/local shopping and so on. Right now there’s no search on the site but that will be added — and you’ll be able to search only your content widgets and related feeds.
I’ve been struggling for some time to think of and define what the “next-generation” local product looks like. This, in most respects, is a next-generation local product — not the only way to go but very compelling. And for AOL MapQuest Local becomes the front door to all its local content.
There are some very interesting ad opportunities here too: MapQuest knows location with greater precision than most publisher sites. And the concept of location here is more sophisticated in several respects. MapQuest knows where you are and where you’re going. There are ad implications for both. MapQuest can show me travel related ads (e.g., Hotels, rental cars) for I’m going and different ads at home (e.g., Macy’s, Target).
I’ve often spoken about the local “product definition” and the challenge of what to include and what to exclude from a local site (should there be news, events, product search and YP listings?). This solves the problem by inviting all comers to introduce their content feeds. End users define the product.
It remains to be seen exactly how this plays out but it’s a great step for MapQuest and a very intriguing step for local in general.
Here’s more from the MapQuest blog; it includes discussion of features I didn’t get to.