Yahoo! has just released an amazing all new Yahoo! Local Maps Beta tonight at around 9pm (TechCrunch’s mention) and all I could say for the last thirty minutes was, “Wow!” Honestly, I haven’t been this impressed in a long time. One thing that shocked me was that Yahoo! actually stepped away from Ajax in this one and used Macromedia Flash instead. The new Yahoo! Maps also has some amazing features such as multi-point directions, live traffic, details, and an amazing new API that allows you to create Yahoo! Maps using Flash and Ajax! Yahoo! has certainly hit a grand-slam on this one.
The interface uses simple and pleasing colors with the main navigational elements on the left and the map on the right. The map looks similar to that of Google Maps, but don’t be fooled because functionality wise, it dominates Google Maps. On the left you are given access to easily search for directions, search for locations, or even select categories of locations on the map, such as gas stations or fast food restaurants. On the right is the map itself. You can click once to slide to a position, click and drag, use the scroll wheel of your mouse, and even directional keys on your keyboard for navigating the map. You will notice that when you move your position, the address in your browser will also change. Yahoo! has done some nice trickery here and actually sets the URL pointing to an anchor with the coordinates and other information in side of the ending string (everything in the URL after the #). Now, because they used anchors, it will update the URL and also allow for it to act as a permanent link. Now, try this: Drag from one point to another. Now press the browser back button. It will scroll back to the previous point with no browser refresh. Yahoo… brilliant. Also, on the right you will see a small box that allows you to easy zoom in and out or to drag a small gray box around that is the focus point on the map. This makes it easy for when viewing a map up close. Now, lets get in a little closer and use their location finding features.
On the left in the “Find on the map” area, you will see a list of categories. Select a category and you will see a list of location types to choose from. When you select on of these, Yahoo! Maps will actually plot each point with nice orange points (note that this will work better when zoomed in on a specific area). So for example, if you were to select the Entertainment category and then Movie Theaters, it will plot all the theaters in the area. Also when selecting the location type, you will now see a list of places to choose from in the place of where you selected the category. Hovering your mouse over one will make the point to open and show the name and making it easier to find the exact position. When you click on a place, it will collapse open with more details and the contact information. You can also click on the point itself and the contact information will show as well.
At this point, we are zoomed in and looking at locations plotted on the map. I live at point A, but how to I get to point B easily (one of the plots on the map)? Very easily. First, you may want to add your start position by going up to the “Get map driving directions” at the top left and filling in the black point A and then pressing enter. This will set your start point on the map. Now, back to the location plots we were looking at before. Simply click and drag the point right to the top left driving area under plot A. You will see that it will actually add the address right it for you. Now, lets make this even more interesting and drag and drop another point onto it. You now have three points in for your directions. Wait! Say that again? Yes, you can now do multi-point directions. Something that Google or Microsoft hasn’t even accomplished yet. So, knowing me, I wanted to play around with this more and by then a minute later I had up to the J marker (10 location points).
You will notice that as you add points, the directions will actually come up. You will see, turn left here, turn right there, etc.. between each point, which just blew my mind. You will also see on the map lines appearing that go from point to point. As you hover over each direction on the left, the lines will highlight and strengthen with darker blue to show what you are looking at. Another thing that I also like about directions on the left was that if you click on one of the instructions (ie: Turn left), it will collapse the box and show you a smaller map of the location right there so you can get a quick visual. You also may want to keep in mind two features for when making directions. “Reverse Directions” and “Roundtrip.” The reverse directions will do exactly as it says, it will take each point and reverse it giving you the opposite of your original directions, which is perfect for going somewhere and then driving back using the same path. Now, they also have the “Roundtrip” feature. Instead of just reversing your directions, why not just add onto them with more directions for the way back home! It will pretty much take the reversed directions and add them onto the last point, making it act as a round trip from point A to B and then back to A again. I am definitely using this for my next trip somewhere.
I had also mentioned that Yahoo! has made an excellent API. They actually made an API that allows you to use Flash OR Ajax for the backend. Which to me is amazing in itself. But from the looks of it, you can create some very feature-rich applications with it. Looking at some of the examples in the Yahoo! Maps Application Gallery, you can see how great it is. In the screenshot above, I have the MashUpcoming.com open. This is a map that shows you locations and events for Upcoming.org. You get to see real-time traffic, use local search, and even view event details all within the map. A few of the others that I found were really nice are the Flickr Maps and the Local Events Browser.
I am very impressed with this release by Yahoo. Just when you though Google Maps was big, Yahoo comes along with their own and in my opinion, feature-wise, dominating. Of course, issues may appear in time that I may have not noticed, but this is Beta! It just released, so just give it some time. If you come across an issue, send them feedback as they requested. We have been seeing some amazing work done with Google’s API and now I cannot wait to see what is going to be created with Yahoo’s. Some have even already made their own, such as this one for Silicon Valley. Amazing work, Yahoo.