Sometimes I'm even surprised by the level of interest and attention being given to maps of late. But the data keep reminding me of how mapping applications are so widely used and, dare I say it, beloved by consumers. Our Q3 joint online survey with BizRate/Shopzilla showed that mapping sites lead nine other categories of Web sites (including search engines) in terms of a composite index of awareness, usage frequency and loyalty.
More recently, iCrossing's "How America Searches" study revealed that among activities conducted via search engines, looking for maps or driving directions was the second most popular and performed by 75% of survey respondents. And last year, the folks at Pew Internet & American Life found that mapping/driving directions was the one online application that was consistently rated better than its offline equivalent.
According to recent data from Hitwise, Yahoo! Maps was the most popular mapping site followed by MapQuest (with Google gaining). comScore data reflect that MapQuest is the category leader.
Tommy McGloin, SVP of MapQuest, told me today that the site will be reintroducing aerial imagery later in the year. The company had it until March 2003 but decided consumers weren't that interested and the costs were higher at the time. In explaining the reintroduction he said, "I don€™t want anyone to not use MapQuest because of these niche features."
In press interviews about mapping I'm often asked, "How will MapQuest respond . . .?" Part of the answer is above. But McGloin told me that MapQuest would continue to do what he believes it does better than anyone else: provide fast and accurate driving directions. McGloin also spoke about MapQuest's ability to leverage its brand and traffic in creating an extremely successful online directory product.
McGloin stressed that innovation was critical to MapQuest's brand identity and that wireless was and would continue to be a major area of development for the site. "We have the number one BREW application out there."
He acknowledged my remark that the newly introduced mapping APIs and related development may take maps in directions (no pun intended) that create new usage patterns. However, he believes that driving directions and finding specific locations/businesses ("name in mind" searches) will continue to dominate user behavior for some time.
Maps and online map usage reflect the growing importance and momentum of the Local Internet and the increasing online/offline connection. Maps are a metaphor for local. So, I suppose, their popularity should come as no surprise.