As we mentioned yesterday, Windows Live Local has launched its third version, a sizable improvement that deserves a closer look. We examine the product in this week’s Local Media Journal (published today), and below is part of that article with comments from Microsoft and some additional screenshots:
In its new release, Windows Live Local’s UI has improved a great deal with additional Ajax functionality that enables interactivity within the map interface. Windows and menus that previously took up valuable map real estate can now be collapsed at the click of a mouse. The user can also create new points on a map by right clicking on any point. An additional feature provides real-time traffic information (including flow and incident data) to which Microsoft gained access through its recent partnership with Traffic.com.
WLL has also been integrated with Microsoft Outlook, where users can now create and e-mail maps and driving directions as they relate to scheduled appointments within their Outlook calendars. Similar integrations are expected for the future, as Live Local is designed to be tied into the myriad online products that orbit Microsoft's Live initiative, including Windows Live Mail, Windows Live for Mobile and Office Live.
"A good chunk of our Windows Live Local team is actively engaged with everybody from search toolbars to the Outlook, Spaces and Office Live teams," says Tom Bailey, director of marketing for Microsoft's Virtual Earth business unit. "You'll see a rolling thunder of innovation that happens across the various services over time."
One area in which this integration seems natural involves a new social media feature of WLL known as "Collections." This builds on the scratchpad feature in the previous version, which allows users to create personal notes that are appended to points on a map. Collections comes with more functionality to tag and share information with friends or the Internet at large regarding locations on a map or businesses in WLL's local search results.
The social dimensions of this are a natural fit with Microsoft's blogging product, Windows Live Spaces, which will have the capability to link users to map locations and businesses. This could also represent the foundation for a social or community layer of content on top of its business listings — a strategy that is growing in popularity in the marketplace, and one on which Insider Pages, Judy's Book and Yelp have been built.
"We will do something like this eventually," says Bailey. "It is on our product road map to get reviews and ratings and other community-generated content into the service."
Monetization opportunities exist to serve up relevant ads based on behavioral targeting or preset preferences (opt-in advertising). It is likely this will eventually be tied in with adCenter, where marketers can optimize campaigns geospatially in addition to using keywords.
"We will do this as we bring in value-add advertising where users can set up their preferences," says Bailey. "I might want to know where there are the Starbucks along a particular route or where there are gas stations. We can then not only show traffic but also gas prices." Serving coupons that relate to local promotions will be a key part of this strategy, according to Bailey, as will allowing advertisers to create and purchase enhanced listings.
"As adCenter matures and gets ready to rock and roll, as we get some of the entity matching infrastructure in place, we think there is going to be a huge opportunity to do some very innovative advertising or additional work that allows vendors themselves to update information and create richer data and enhanced YP listings," he says.
The Bottom Line: Windows Live Local's key strategy is bringing together different sets of data and imagery to create a comprehensive experience for local search. Integration will also happen across product categories as the various pieces of the overall Windows Live online product suite are plugged into each other to create value in a one-stop integrated experience. WLL could be the glue that holds them together.
"Part of our overall Windows Live strategy is to integrate a range of services together — in this case around local search and mapping," says Bailey. "And we're making a very big bet on creating an immersive local search experience that will enable people to really get in and get a great feel for the local areas that they are interested in."