Kara Swisher is reporting that MapQuest is one of the AOL “assets” potentially for sale. I’ve argued in the past that MapQuest is one of AOL’s great local assets, if not the single most important one. However, perhaps the feeling at AOL is “game over” and that the company can’t compete with the Google Maps juggernaut or Microsoft’s deep pockets.
Here’s what Swisher says:
[A]ccording to sources inside and outside AOL, one of the next candidates for sale could be its MapQuest online map service.
Purchasers for the service that provides mapping and directions, sources said, are likely to be other mapping giants, especially Microsoft (MSFT).
Why would Microsoft buy MapQuest when it has all the mapping assets it needs? The only reason would be for the brand and traffic, which amounts to 45 or so million monthly uniques. However Bing Maps is the brand that Microsoft is seeking to rally around (it recently replaced Multimap in the UK with “Bing Maps” accordingly). So who else might buy it? Nokia, which owns Navteq (unlikely). What about TomTom, which owns Teleatlas? That’s also probably unlikely but maybe not as part of a “diversification” play now that Google Navigation threatens to drive GPS device makers into increasingly marginal status.
If in fact it’s true that MapQuest is for sale, it would find a buyer given that it’s one of the top brands in travel and navigation.
It strikes me however that a company seeking to be a force in local or that sees local as a “key strategic area” is probably making a pretty significant mistake selling the top online mapping brand and the number two destination in maps.
If it turns out that MapQuest does sell we can later write the story of how this leading mapping site was complacent for too long around investing in the product and took both the brand and the usage for granted until the momentum of events was already trending in Google’s favor.