As most of you already know, MSN’s Virtual Earth Beta is live. There is supposed to be some big announcement Monday morning with all the normal stuff that comes along with a Microsoft style announcement. It’s probably Virtual Earth but I don’t know as I’m not involved in any of it.
As with most stuff Microsoft, remember I used to work there, standard disclaimers apply. I’ve never seen or touched the product until last week so I’m as new to it as you are.
Here are my thoughts as they relate to you starting up/running a company. Microsoft, love em or hate em, is a pile of lessons that every business can use. Things to avoid are just as important and good things to copy.
The Virtual Earth team set up a blog. It’s here. There are three entries. The first is on June 23rd, 30 days or so ago, an entry about Where 2.0 and the “launch” entry on July 7th. Nothing since then.
The slashdotting MS haters are going to jump on the fact that Virtual Earth doesn’t have the same coverage out of the box as Google Maps. Coverage as in searching for locations, stores, addresses, directions, etc.
Simple test: open both in new browser windows and for location type “Toronto”.
In Google, you get Toronto, Ontario (Canada), in Virtual Earth, you get a bunch of Toronto USA places but no option for Canada. Even if you put the full Canadian address into Virtual Earth, it is ignored and you are sent to Texas or wherever. You can scroll around and get to Toronto in Virtual Earth, you just can’t seem to type in an address and get there. In fact, if you are on top of downtown Toronto, Canada and you try a Toronto street address, you end up in Texas with no way to get back to Canada.
Switch to Aerial Photo view and type “Paris, France.” No results in Virtual Earth. In Google you get the Aerial photo. No street maps for either.
Local Search. Set the map location, in both products, over Toronto, Canada and use the local search to find the hard rock cafe. Google finds both in Toronto plus gives you a couple of other places that have “avoid the hard rock” in the text. Virtual Earth, no results at all.
You can wander around and blog directly from within Virtual Earth if you are using MSN Spaces as your blogging tool of choice. Some will see that as a feature for MSN Spaces and others will see that as a bad thing; excluding all the other blogging tools/worlds out there.
And so it goes. The reviewers will hammer Microsoft on the US Centric stuff, no results for “Paris”, etc, etc, and there should be some good John C. Dvorak, Dave Winner, etc, snarky comments along with others saying some nice things, I’m sure.
The interesting part? It’s in beta and everything I mentioned above will get fixed over time. The really interesting part? Microsoft is going to announce this stuff tomorrow (Monday) and they will get reviewed like it is a shipping product. At least that’s the rumor of what is happening tomorrow.
Microsoft’s Start.com, to the best of my knowledge, has never been ‘announced’ and is generally recognized as a pretty interesting work in progress. They are in beta and generally getting tracked that way.
The activity that will happen around Virtual Earth’s announcement Monday (assuming the announcement is Virtual Earth) will put it in a different zone, i.e. treated like shipping product. To me, this is a pretty good case study on expectation setting and what happens as a result of those expectations.
Stay tuned, it should be fun.