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In an exciting development from Microsoft, the company just announced it will provide 3-D models of 15 U.S. cities in its Live Search results. Starting tomorrow, users who click on the “maps” tab after entering a search term in Live Search will have the option to see search results within these 3-D maps, in addition to the traditional aerial and bird’s-eye 2-D maps. Branded as Virtual Earth 3-D, it will have imagery for Atlanta, Baltimore, Boston, Dallas, Denver, Detroit, Fort Worth, Houston, Las Vegas, Los Angeles, Philadelphia, Phoenix, San Francisco, San Jose and Seattle. Here is downtown Boston:



Interestingly, the move from 2-D to 3-D will allow Microsoft more ad inventory to dynamically place ads within maps  something that has been tested on a limited basis by Google and others (in 2-D). This will include placing ads on virtual billboards throughout the 3-D cityscapes with the help of Massive, the in-game advertising placement company Microsoft acquired earlier this year. It will be interesting to see where the company takes this, and it clearly has lots of local implications.

As we’ve discussed many times, the pace of feature development in search has been rapid, especially with mapping. It’s important to note however that whiz-bang feature development only goes so far. The functionality and base data of these tools (“Will it find what I’m looking for?”) are ultimately what retain users, although cool new features certainly have a way of attracting them.

We’ll continue to examine the Virtual Earth 3-D and see how it holds up to a number of local search queries. I’ll also attend a launch event for the product tonight in San Francisco and will see what else I can learn about it. More to come here and in this week’s issue of Local Media Journal.

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