Archive for the ‘Metaverses’ Category

Google Building Maker Simplifies 3D

October 14, 2009

Picture 48Google is accelerating “crowdsourcing” on Maps. The latest expression of this trend is Building Maker, announced yesterday. It simplifies the process of 3D rendering dramatically, in an effort to get ordinary people online involved in building up Google’s 3D warehouse of images. There the best version of a building with multiple renderings is chosen and added to Earth (and Maps).

Like Map Maker, My Maps and the new “report a problem” initiatives, Google is combining its own technology (satellite, Street View), public and some third party data, with crowdsourcing to enhance its Maps product. Microsoft by contrast relies on technology it acquired with Vexcel for automated 3D rendering.

There are all kinds of interesting potential applications of 3D cityscapes that I can imagine as the Internet migrates to TV screens.

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Bringing Real-Time Images to Google Earth/Maps

October 1, 2009

From FastCompany/Gizmodo: Here’s is an experimental approach to adding real-time information (“dynamic visualization”) to Google Earth. Watch the video; it shows traffic, sporting events and even individual movements based on the placement of cameras in and around the represented areas:

This isn’t the only effort to marry video and Google Earth. On one level this is “cool” and potentially very useful and one can imagine many applications and use cases, especially as Internet content and applications such as Google Earth move to TV screens. For example, watching live sporting events via Google Earth rather than on cable TV, or checking traffic on the commute in the morning. But there are obvious privacy and surveillance concerns.

All the Hollywood dystopian visions come to mind: Blade Runner, Terminator, Enemy of the State and so on.

StreetView Now Offers ‘AR’ on the PC Browser

August 28, 2009

I just wrote about augmented reality in the new Yelp iPhone app (or update rather) and augmented reality in general. I was about to write about Google putting business info windows onto StreetView and it occurred to me that this is the same kind of thing — a kind of “augmented reality” for the PC browser — except you’re not getting information about businesses immediately in front of you on the street.

However it mimics the AR experience in a certain way:

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The next step for this, which would truly align it with AR, is to pop up or enable the info windows as I “walk down” or move around Street View:

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I should be able (hopefully soon) to walk down this street in the Marais district of Paris and click on a storefront or hotel and get the window (avec deals?). You can’t currently do that. But the new functionality certainly points in this direction.

Canpages Continues to Build Its ‘Street View’

August 27, 2009

Canpages is continuing to build out its street-level photography offering for the Canadian market. Last week the site acquired social directory publisher GigPark.

According to the release issued the next city for Canpages’ “Street Scene” photography will be Montreal:

Street Scene provides 360-degree street-level views of the city for people searching for local business Canpages.ca. The technology enables users to pinpoint their search results on a map as well as see high resolution images of the results in the context of the local environment. For example, users can take a virtual “drive” down a city street to find out whether a restaurant offers parking or to see what a particular storefront looks like. Street Scene views are currently available for local businesses searches conducted in Vancouver and Whistler, BC. Canpages recently wrapped up shooting in Toronto. These images, along with images collected of Montreal streets, are expected to become available on Street Scene in the fall of 2009.

I think there’s no question, notwithstanding some of the privacy issues, that users like this imagery. The question for incumbent YP publisher Yellow Pages Group is how to respond here:

  • Build a similar product
  • Use Google’s Street View on its site
  • Use crowdscourcing (a la Everyscape) to offer street-level imagery

What would you do if you were at YPG:

  • Compete head on?
  • Dismiss this as as a costly novelty?
  • Integrate the Google imagery?

Update: Courtesy of AhmedF, here’s an image from Canpages “Street Scene” (using MapJack):

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Photosynth Integrating into Virtual Earth

May 7, 2009

picture-351Photosyth is a great product and under-appreciated I believe. Less well recognized than the integration of images and user photos into Google Maps, Microsoft has offered Photosynth collections/synths in Live Search Maps for some time. However the company is now integrating Photosyth more fully into the Virtual Earth platform (B2B):

Microsoft Corp. today announced updates to its Photosynth technology that enable commercial use through integration with Microsoft Virtual Earth. The Photosynth integration into Virtual Earth signifies the first release designed to enable businesses to use Photosynth in commercial applications.

Photosynth software analyzes digital photographs and generates a 3-D model by “stitching” the photos together. These models, or “synths,” can now be viewed using Silverlight technology across multiple platforms. Virtual Earth brings together features, functionality and content that help consumers, businesses, citizens and governments bring location to life. It helps businesses and governments share location-based information, build better connections with consumers or citizens, and helps organizations make better operational decisions. With the integration of Photosynth into Virtual Earth customers will be able to create detailed 3-D views of anything from places to products and from hotels to homes.

There are many commercial as well as purely “artistic” or educational applications of Photosynth (per the press release):

  • Real estate. Showing homebuyers the inside and outside of properties with interactive views
  • Tourism and hospitality. Giving an early 3-D and interactive view of hotels, resorts or cities
  • Retail. Enabling customers to see the insides of branches and stores, and browse products in great detail
  • Media and entertainment. Allowing media companies to create and share visual projects in a controlled environment, and build compelling campaigns and programs with new media
  • Public sector. Giving citizens rich detail on public services, buildings, land use and more
  • Internal business use. Using unlisted synths for location-based information, such as insurance risk assessment and claim processing

Indeed, real estate is one of the most obvious:

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Another Prediction: Internet on TV

December 30, 2008

It’s already there — here and there that is. The Internet is not yet mainstream on TV but it will be by 2010. AT&T is pushing a limited Internet through U-Verse; the Xbox allows chatting with others “online,” while the Wii has a Web browser from Opera.

You can also get partial Internet from some of the set-top boxes (e.g., Amazon via TiVo). But in the not-too-distant future we should get a more full-blown version of the Internet on TV. It will need to be a lot more “visual” than much of the Internet is today (more icons, images, video, etc.). But it will be a significant development when it finally happens (maybe as significant as mobile in a way). Consider how the following Internet functions might play out on a larger screen:

  • Shopping (see, e.g., Click to Buy)
  • Travel
  • Local search
  • E-commerce

I’ve speculated and written about this many times in the past. In particular I’ve also wondered how “metaverses” (Virtual Earth 3D, Google Earth, SecondLife) might develop and play out in the living room. Gaming is the model there. Imagine, as one potential example, the “newspaper of the future” on TV with a mix of text, video, images, community, ads and shopping/e-commerce (e.g., event tickets). All of this could be set against the 3D backdrop of Virtual Earth or Google Earth.

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In general there are some fairly radical implications for TV around content, business model, targeting, etc. We’ll see how much of what I’m alluding to comes to pass in the next couple of years. It’s safe to say, however, that TV is in transition from the “top down” version of the last 40 years to something else.

Ancient Rome in Google Earth

November 12, 2008

From the “this is cool” file: Google Earth has now incorporated 3D images of ancient Rome, created in conjunction with the University of Virginia’s “Rome Reborn” project. Here’s a video that shows some of the details (note the voice over and dramatic music in the background):

EveryScape Launches Austin

August 13, 2008

EveryScape has introduced another city: Austin, Texas:

EveryScape makes money when businesses buy “interior” imagery. It’s a great site but the model makes making money from local businesses tough slogging.

Hotels and selected other businesses will recognize the importance of signing up for these images but most local businesses will need to be “sold” on the idea (and some won’t care).

Here are previous posts about EveryScape.

Lively and Local Targeting

July 9, 2008

As you know by now, Google launched its own virtual world Lively today: avatars, customized rooms, 3D chats, etc. Here’s my write up on SEL:

Beyond comparing the now proliferating virtual worlds on features, it’s worth asking why Google is doing this. As I said in the beginning, this effort is quite far removed from Google’s mission to “organize the world’s information.”

One could take the cynical view and see it as an effort to further develop the burgeoning “in-game” advertising market. In 2006 Google acquired the in-game ad company AdScape. Alternatively it could be seen as a product to appeal to the youth market (and later offer demographic advertising and sponsorships accordingly). But it may equally be a product of the creativity of a number of Google engineers who just thought it would be “cool.”

It will also be interesting to see whether and how Lively integrates with Google Earth and Maps.

Locally targeted ads are probably very far removed from the minds of the engineers who created Lively, which so far has no apparent grounding in the real world.

But if you took this product “up” about a decade or two and turned Google Earth’s 3D cities and environments into a similar metaverse (think SIMS) it would be a very interesting place for adults, e-commerce and local/brand advertising. (See, for example, the T-Mobile part of this post.)

3D Is the Future of Travel Planning

June 5, 2008

Disney World in Orlando is now available in 3D in Google Earth. Here’s how you can get access to it.

3D Disney

This is the future of online travel planning pure and simple: much more visually rich information about a place presented to the end user to explore. And think about this on the “big screen” in the living room, which is where this will eventually wind up.

MSFT Upgrades Live Maps, Yahoo Adds Images

April 11, 2008

Over at SEL, I post briefly about feature and functionality upgrades at Microsoft Live Maps. Many of the changes are technical but there’s also more high resolution 3D imagery coming as well as much more user-generated content. In particular you can view all Google My Maps content in Live Search Maps.

Liver Search Maps 3D

The full value of the changes are best experienced on a fast connection. As I’ve argued many times in the past (unless or until we have super-fast connections on the desktop, sites like Virtual Earth/Live Search Maps and Google Earth (effectively “metaverses”) will really come into their own on TV screens some time from now.

Here’s more from Steve Lombardi at the Virtual Earth blog.

Related: Yahoo Maps receives a big image upgrade today. Here’s more from my post at SEL.

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I discussed yesterday’s traffic and routing upgrades on Live Search Maps at SEL and over at Local Mobile Search.

EveryScape Adds New Cites

April 7, 2008

The company today announced that it had added San Francisco, CA, Washington, D.C. and Philadelphia, PA. Here’s an example from San Francisco, The Sir Francis Drake Hotel:

Outside:

Everyscape SF outside

Inside:

Everyscape SF Drake inside

That brings to 15 the number of cities (in the US and abroad) that are EveryScaped.

Obviously this visual information is very useful in investigating the area around a hotel or destination and for checking out the interior to determine whether you’d like to stay there. I would imagine that EveryScape has data that reflect higher response and booking rates for hotels, for example, that show their interiors.

There’s some great tools and capabilities here. But my guess is that the site will need to start syndicating its imagery to third-party local destination sites that already have traffic at some point soon. Making it as a stand-alone local search destination is very tough, especially when ad sales (the inside imagery) rely on distribution for proof of value.

Everyscape Launches ‘HarvardSquare’

January 17, 2008

Everyscape has released “Harvard Square,” which showcases businesses and landmarks in the area. This stuff is definitely cool and engaging for users:

But selling ads to local businesses is tough slogging. I haven’t caught up with the company in some time and I’d be curious to know how it’s going. Merchant associations, malls and other “aggregator channels” represent a more effective sales strategy than trying to attract “one-off” sales from SMBs.

Here’s my past coverage of Everyscape.

Some Thoughts and Predictions for 2008

January 2, 2008

Here are some quick, stream of consciousness predictions for the coming year, not in any order of significance or priority:

More online video (content and ads):

The “video is everywhere” trend will continue and local sites will increasingly feature video. The yellow pages publishers will have great success selling video to SMBs and it will become a kind of “must-have” promotional vehicle that also plays to the vanity of local business owners.

Internet on TV (and vice versa):

The Hollywood writers’ strike and the continuing exodus of TV audiences to the Internet will mean: 1) more pressure on television and TV advertising 2) accelerating two-way TV-Internet content distribution. Apple’s forthcoming iTunes movie rental announcement is a part of that larger trend.

Newspapers:

I predicted last year that newspapers would finally “figure it out” in 2007. What happened was more incremental, even as newspaper print revenues continued to suffer. But most major newspaper publishers are now moving much more decisively. Most have embraced community and are working with syndication and technology partners. There’s more pain to come but newspapers still have a window of opportunity in local to be trusted “go to” sites because of their brands and content advantage in many markets. (There’s a more nuanced discussion required here, but for “predictions” I’ll leave it there.)

Mobile:

This year will see the continuing impact of the iPhone, as its market share grows and surfing the mobile Internet becomes more mainstream. Touchscreens continue to proliferate (partly in response to the iPhone). The Palm Centro isn’t the hit that Palm is hoping for but smartphone prices come down, causing more people to adopt them – and more mobile Internet adoption in turn.

As an ad medium mobile is no longer a novelty and some interesting and creative mobile campaigns and promotions emerge this year. In addition, mobile starts to become an important bridge between the Internet and the physical store (a la NearbyNow). Mobile as an in-store price-comparison and research tool becomes more important for consumers. And camera-phones as shopping tools (point and shop/search) finally gain some US adoption in 2008.

We’ll also see the first Android phones (from either HTC or LG) and they will either capture the press and pundits’ imaginations or be unimpressive. If they deliver, however, the whole Android platform and movement will get a big boost.

We should also see the introduction of more interesting wireless and mobile Internet access devices that fall into neither the cellphone nor laptop categories (e.g., Dash, iPod Touch, Kindle, Nokia 810, ModBook).

M&A, Yahoo!, AOL and AT&T:

This is a somewhat murky area. It’s very safe to say there will be more M&A activity this year as traditional media companies continue to build out their online portfolios. And the competitive dynamics of the big online portals and engines will continue to fuel acquisitions.

As I said previously, Yahoo! will be forced to “do something” if it can’t appease investors in the next couple quarters with a sufficient growth/turnaround story and results to match. We’ll have more clarity on Yahoo!’s fate as an independent company by Q2.

AOL could be retained or spun off by TWX. The company’s share price has generally been flat (or down) during Richard Parsons’ tenure. So there’s pressure to “do something” to increase shareholder value. Microsoft was interested in AOL previously and got outflanked by Google, when it made its billion-dollar investment in the company two years ago. It’s entirely possible that Microsoft would invest significantly or buy the portal outright (which might be problematic for several reasons for the two companies) if it were to be put on the block.

While there would be integration and redundancy challenges inherent in a Microsoft acquisition of AOL, that would not be as true for AT&T. AT&T has lots of money and is moving fairly aggressively on several fronts. Beyond YellowPages.com, the company doesn’t have a strong consumer Internet (or particularly strong mobile) portfolio; so I would expect some acquisitions in 2008. Investments in Yahoo! or AOL would complement the company’s current businesses — though I think of the two scenarios Yahoo! would be more likely.

Comcast, once a sleeping giant in local, seems to have receded as potential player. Hesitation and competitive pressures on its core business have held back the cable provider from doing much that is decisive or provocative online. However, a growing feeling of a need to act and diversify online could make Comcast a serious potential investor or acquirer in 2008. We might even see a splashy local consumer acquisition, because Comcast has a sales force to monetize local traffic.

The “R” word:

There’s disagreement about the outlook for a US recession in 2008. Some economists think we’re in a recession now. From an advertising standpoint 2008 will see slower spending in traditional media (notwithstanding the Olympics and US election) and an acceleration of brand ad budgets shifting dollars online. Effectively then the traditional ad industry generally will experience a recession-like slump, while online will remain fairly healthy. The problem is: marketers are confused and most are not rising to the challenge of reaching fickle, distracted audiences.

For this reason, paid search advertising continues to shine even as marketers struggle to figure out where to put their brand dollars (portals, social nets, verticals, etc.)?

Local inventory online (and on mobile):

The past two years have seen great strides in the development of what might be called the “product inventory infrastructure.” This year will see local inventory information become even more common and widely proliferated. Some of this will come from new, independent efforts such as TheFind’s. But much of this will come from content and data syndication from the likes of NearbyNow, ShopLocal, Where2GetIt and Channel Intelligence to a range of third-party sites. ShopLocal has been doing this for some time with newspaper partners.

This data/content will also come from retailers’ own buy online, pick up in store capabilities, which are becoming more common and more important to consumers.

User-generated content and trust:

Now that community and the “culture of participation” are firmly established online, the next hurdle is separating the wheat from the dreck. When you’ve got 200 reviews how do you make sense of them? Review aggregation/summaries and site features like Yelp’s “ratings details” chart become increasingly important. Trust circles make a comeback as well for the same reason: “What’s my network saying about this place?”

In addition, Facebook will undergo a significant makeover this year and seek to become more of a “daily utility” (and less of a novelty) to users, adding Web search (from MSFT) and MyYahoo!/iGoogle-like capabilities and features. In other words, it will seek to become a kind of Internet “dashboard” and nouveau portal with trusted community.

Virtual worlds and more 3-D:

Many of you may have seen the recent NY Times article on Webkinz and Club Penguin. A kind of parallel trend to online video, “virtual worlds” and increasing 3-D visualization (maps, etc.) will gain steam in 2008.

I’m fascinated by what I think will be the ultimate collision of gaming, social networking, local content and virtual worlds. It will probably require a bigger pipe (see Internet on TV) for this to be fully realized. But eventually there will be a range virtual worlds for adults (not referring to porn here) online and especially on TV that offer Internet content, community and rich, immersive experiences (something along the lines of Google Earth or Virtual Earth 3-D meets Everyscape meets There.com).

The local SEM rollup:

I keep expecting somebody to come along and bring together two or more of these local SEM firms and then put some meaningful marketing behind the effort to build a trusted brand. This area is still a kind of “Wild West” and most SMBs are still ignorant of the existence of these firms. This year we may see some consolidation in this segment – because that’s the only way to compete effectively with the yellow pages sales forces.

Impatient investors and more startup failures:

We’ll see more startup failures and sites being shut down by VCs this year, as larger investors (like Hollywood) look for increasingly elusive “big scores” to the exclusion of a succession of small hits. This failure trend will be true in local too, as sites just can’t effectively monetize their traffic to support their cost structures. Unfortunately, most VCs will move farther away from the mentality that one needs to succeed in local: a long-term vision and patience.

Newspaper and yellow pages diversification:

I wrote briefly not long ago that newspapers and yellow pages may “diversify” by starting and/or acquiring sites that are once or twice-removed from their core businesses: verticals, community sites, independent local sites and so on. We’ll see how far this goes in 2008.

Will we see the emergence of a coupon destination?

I continue to be amazed that there’s no online coupon destination. Judy’s Book was trying to build one but that was aborted. Many sites offer deals or coupons as an aspect of what they do (e.g., Dealio, ShopLocal), but there’s no “top of mind” branded coupon destination for consumers. Will 2008 be the year that happens? This is, in my view, a gaping hole online.

Mobile coupons (or mobile coupon redemption) is an important future trend as well.

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Andrew Shotland discusses local trends and local SEO trends for 2008.

Another Place the Subscription Model Lives

December 13, 2007

In my post the other day, The Vanishing Subscription Model, I totally omitted one segment (beyond dating) that is successfully employing subscriptions: kids’ virtual worlds.

Sites like Disney’s Club Penguin and Webkinz are charging for content: CP directly through explicit subscription charges (though part of the site is free) and Webkinz indirectly through stuffed animals and charms that translate into characters/avatars and Webkinz cash. (However, now Webkinz is starting to show ads too.)

According to the Google Zeitgeist, Webkinz and Club Penguin are among the fastest growing search queries on a global basis. Those queries mirror the increasing popularity of the sites themselves. Club Penguin was acquired for approximately $700 million and Webkinz, if considered a social network, may be worth billions.

According to this eMarketer compiled chart of Nielsen data, Webkinz has seen dramatic growth in a compressed time frame:

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I’ve seen the “virality” of Webkinz in action with my daughter and her circle of friends. However, kids are fickle and the hold of these networks on children is more tenuous than their more grown-up counterparts. Nonetheless the subscription model is successfully being employed here.

NYT Covers 3-D Mapper EveryScape

November 26, 2007

Here’s the NY Times’ article and here’s my write-up at SEL:

EveryScape has settled on a business model where it charges retailers and local businesses an annual fee to include interior images on its site. The range is between $250 to $2,000, depending on the size of the interior space.

While the model makes logical sense, it reproduces the familiar problem of trying to get local businesses to participate. Thus EveryScape will soon need to branch out and enlist third-party sales channels and probably offer its maps to others via an API. The company does have other revenue streams but if this one is going to work it’s going to need to tweak its efforts. For example, I could image an interesting project — along the lines of NearbyNow — of 3-D “enabling” every shopping mall or shopping area in the US. Mall owners and merchant associations would make this process of getting sign-ups and store interior photography much more efficient.

Meanwhile, Google’s StreetView vehicles are in Australia while Microsoft maps Tampa, Florida.

EveryScape Launches with Four US Cities

October 29, 2007

Three dimensional mapping company Everyscape has been busy building its product out for the last several months. This morning it finally launched with four US cities to show for its effort: Aspen, CO, New York, Miami, FL and Boston. And while Google and Microsoft have been battling it out in public and the press with their respective 3-D efforts, Everyscape has quietly built a very impressive experience that includes many building interiors (that’s where the business model comes in). Businesses pay money (from $250 to $500 per year) for interior photography that is integrated into the 3-D experience.

Only a few locations with interiors are currently available, but the movement from exterior facade to building interior is, dare I say it, cool and points the way to the future integration of video as well.

The rest of this post is at SEL.

The thing that makes Everyscape interesting, beyond its approach, is the fact that it’s enlisting the community in a kind of “populist” effort to capture data that the company can use to build its product.

Just for fun: check out this map of an Aspen ski mountain.

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Related: Here are some previous posts on the company. In addition, local search on TV looks a lot more like Everyscape than “10 blue links” coming out of a static search box.

More Evidence of the Coming ‘3D Internet’

October 10, 2007

The image “https://i1.wp.com/aucompetition.sketchup.com/images/u_of_minnesota_th.jpg” cannot be displayed, because it contains errors.I wrote about a deal between game platform developer Multiverse Network and Google on Search Engine Land that is part of a range of developments that ultimately lead to much richer online environments across the board.

As one further piece of evidence I have only to look to my eight year old daughter who has become overly involved with Webkinz. For those who don’t know about Webkinz, the company sells stuffed animals, charms and trading cards in the real world that tie in to online prizes and pseudo cash all in the context of online gaming in a virtual world.

Her generation is being conditioned to expect richer experiences and more “immersive” environments online. Also think about Xbox or the Wii. The Internet is already available through these set-top boxes. Ultimately there will be integration between 3D “gaming environments” and more mundane activities like shopping, travel planning and so on.

In addition, beyond SecondLife, there’s a great opportunity to create a 3D social network, which will certainly happen. And in local, UpNext is trying to do 3D local search.

There’s lots more to say about all this, some of which I do in previous posts on “metaverses” and the 3D Interent.

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Related: IBM and SecondLife parent Linden Labs announce “avatar portability.”

Google Keynote at SMX Local & Mobile

September 26, 2007

The image “https://i2.wp.com/searchmarketingexpo.com/_images/smxlogoh.gif” cannot be displayed, because it contains errors.Just confirmed yesterday: Michael Jones, Chief Technologist, Google Earth, Google Maps, and Google Local Search will be giving the keynote at SMX Local & Mobile. IAC’s Peter Horan had originally been scheduled but he had to cancel due to a family obligation.

I’m very excited about Jones’ keynote given the dynamic nature of online (and mobile) mapping and how it has become a prevailing metaphor for local online. Google’s iPhone mapping application is one of the hottest and buzzworthy mobile apps out there. And online mapping and mashups have emerged as tools that co-exist with search as powerful ways of navigating (literally and figuratively) the Internet. (Here’s a piece I wrote in June of last year about Google Earth as a kind of “geobrowser.”) Accordingly, it’s hard to argue that dynamic mapping isn’t one of the most interesting and compelling areas on the Internet.

It will be great to hear Jones talk about the evolution of these products, they’re emergence as platforms and Google’s thinking about the future of online and mobile mapping.

UpNext Building a 3D Yelp

August 9, 2007

The image “https://i1.wp.com/www.upnext.com/home_logo.gif” cannot be displayed, because it contains errors.UpNext is a 3D cityguide that offers user ratings and reviews. A kind of cross between Yelp and Microsoft Virtual Earth 3D, the site only covers Manhattan currently but with expansions plans.

I don’t have a ton to say about the user experience because I’ve not been able to get into the site; it has not worked for me. However, it belongs to a “next-generation” cluster of local search sites that include EveryScape, which are seeking to build more “immersive” experiences for users.

I’m told by co-founder Danny Moon that they’re working the bugs out. But here’s a video of UpNext and how it works.

I’m a big fan of these sites and think that they’ll be widely used in the future as consumers hunger for richer experiences and/or the Internet moves into the living room and onto the TV. However, they must work easily and quickly, which is one of the things that has held back Virtual Earth 3D from gaining broader adoption so far.