Yahoo Maps Get Interactive with Flash

Yahoo has rolled out a new beta of its mapping and directions service, which follows the interactive approach taken by rivals Google and MSN with one major difference: Yahoo! Maps is built with Flash. Despite the change, Yahoo has made sure that printing and sharing maps online remains easy.

Local content takes center stage in the new approach. Information such as hotels, restaurants and events can be instantly layered atop the map, with a single click to bring up driving directions. Yahoo has also tapped its user-generated reviews and ratings to provide what it calls "the inside scoop" on local establishments.

Browsing a map can be done using the mouse or keyboard arrows, while zooming is achieved with the scroll wheel or page-up and page-down buttons. A mini-map providing a larger overview of an area is seated in the corner to make it easier to navigate around a city.

Driving directions have also been upgraded in the beta to provide multi-point routing. For example, a user can input three or four locations they wish to visit and Yahoo! Maps will pull up the best route to follow. Stops can be reordered using drag-and-drop functionality and reverse directions are also supplied.

Yahoo says it is the first U.S. mapping site to offer such a feature.

"We believe the design and rich relevant data have raised the bar for online mapping. The new Yahoo! Maps is focused on innovation to helps users more easily and accurately accomplish their tasks," said Paul Levine, Yahoo's general manager of Local Services.

Using Flash for interactive maps may be a first among the major Web portals, but the technology is nothing new. Spanish company Geofactory has for years licensed out Flash-based maps covering much of Europe that work much in the same way as Yahoo's beta, although without the bells and whistles.

But Yahoo has opened the door for any developers to integrate its maps onto a Flash or DHTML Web site. The new Yahoo! Maps APIs utilize GeoRSS, or RSS feeds with geographical location information, and are compatible with JavaScript, AJAX and Macromedia's Flex. This means that a developer can create a personalized map that overlays a variety of data from Yahoo's growing content pool.

The Yahoo! Maps beta requires the latest Macromedia Flash 7, but the company says the majority of users have already migrated to the new release.

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