How Microsoft could kick some Google ass

It’s amazing to me that Microsoft doesn’t make search any easier. Take the maps side of It beats the crap out of Google Maps in at least one hugely helpful area: “bird’s eye” views — from four different direcitons.

But man, what a frustrating UI. Maybe it’s better for Windows/IE users, but if so, why? (Except for lock-in, which lost the appeal it never had, a long time ago.) It can start vague (on which line do you enter… what?)…

… and get worse from there.

For example, if I plug 42° 15′ 27″N, 71° 01′ 44″W into, I go straight to a real x/y place on a map. Live Maps doesn’t know what to do with it. But If I use Google Maps to help guide me to the same spot on Live Maps, switch to Bird’s eye, and look at what’s there, I see what I’m looking for — WUMB’s transmitting antenna — and find it: a two-bay thing sitting atop a castle turret next to a ball field on Reservoir Road, near Furnace Brook Country Club in Quincy. (I guess the castle is actually a kind of water tower… clever.) I can even see the antenna itself, which appears to be a two-bay affair, encapsulated in radomes to keep ice off the elements. When I look at it from all four directions (N,S,E,W), I can make out lots of details on the tower, count the notches in the cornice, count the seats in the ball field bleachers, and make out features less than a foot across. It’s amazing. Here’s the Google Maps version. Doesn’t begin to compare. I’d show you the Live Maps views, but there’s no way to link to them. Not that I can find, anyway. Is that sucky or what?

The maps come from Microsoft’s Virtual Earth. For what that’s worth, which is a lot. Looking around the VE site, it seems far too deeply linked to Windows-only stuff. That’s retro, folks. Stop it.

Maps, and Geo in General, is one place where Microsoft could open up and leapfrog Google in features and usability. Hey, why not?

[Later…] I’m looking for a way to show the birds-eye view to another person here at the Berkman Center, and I’m failing to find it. So are they. And they’re using a Windows workstation, even. So we’ve got flunking not just the Obviouness Test, but the Easiness Test too.

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14 Responses to How Microsoft could kick some Google ass

  1. Rod K says:

    You can “build your own” URL and use decimal degrees for lat and long.

    Not quite “user friendly”.


  2. petrilli says:

    Worse, Rod, that doesn’t work when I click on it. It just gives me MS Live’s “search” page.

  3. Doc Searls says:

    Very good comment from Jon Udell on his blog. (In case any of ya’ll miss it in the list above.)

  4. Jeff Schuler says:

    Maybe Microsoft isn’t prepared to handle the computational/network load consequences of making the interface easier and more accessible? (Could that be why you can’t link straight in to Live Maps?)

    The bird’s eye view is prettier and holds more info, but much of the time, a low-res version that is quick, easy, and reliable will do the trick.

    (In fact, maybe spatial thinking in 2 dimensions is generally more comfortable and legible for most people…)

    Remember the Google web search page interface?

  5. AEP528 says:

    This is what you’re looking at, right?

    I got the URL by going to Share, Send in e-mail. Took, oh I don’t know, about 10 seconds to figure it out.

  6. Doc Searls says:

    Well, AEP528, you’re fast. Well done.

    But why should the URL be buried behind “Send email”? Why not just “Link to this page”, like Google Maps has?

    Again, with all the advantages Live Maps has over Google Maps, why not make hay where the eyes shine?

    Speaking of which, I also wanted to get a close-up view of WBUR’s directional antenna. Here’s the view on Live Maps. And here’s the view on Google Maps. On the former I can see the actual antenna — or what I think it is, anyway, shot from what can’t be more than a few hundred feet away. It’s the two metal contraptions that appeared to be speared by the pylons (actually UHF TV antennae) at the top of a tower in Neeham, MA. On Google Maps, we see the tower itself, shot from space. The WBUR antenna and the pylons are too small to see, and from the wrong angle as well.

    Again, advantages. Which is my main point.

  7. Mystic TaCo says:

    If you’re using Safari, have you tried using Firefox? I’ve found that the Live Maps service works well in Firefox in both Windows and MacOS.

  8. Doc Searls says:

    Mystic, I was using Firefox for most of what I was talking about here, on two laptops: one Linux and one Mac. I will confess, however, that the graphic I used above was from Safari.

    Thanks to Safari, similar nonresults, I assume, can be obtained on the iPhone.

    Also, my points have to do with design and UI choices by Microsoft, and how they can improve those. I would hope that Live Search would work well regardless of the device or the browser employed. Today that’s not the case.

  9. I agree that MS rarely thinks things through completely. They slowly seem to be coming around to the fact that the more they comply with everyone else’s rules, the better the response from the general public. Take for instance IE8 which is “SUPPOSED” to be w3 compliant… I’m very curious if that’s actually true.

    – joel johnston
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