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Microsoft’s Virtual Earth Blog posted yesterday that AskCity will now use Virtual Earth to power its mapping and local features. This will take the place of Ask’s homegrown mapping tool that was the first to come out with multi-point directions, drawing tools and lots of other features that have since been adopted by other mapping engines.

About two years ago, Ask started on a path toward innovating all its search products in interesting ways (i.e., AskX, Ask “3D”), with the thought that gaining share on Google’s commanding market lead wasn’t going to happen with an undifferentiated product. AskCity was no exception and had some of the best (in my opinion) mapping features in the competitive space.

But all this has turned around as the company is cutting costs and switching gears since the departure of CEO Jim Lanzone. This recently includes a perceived directional shift away from designation as a core search engine that competes with Google et al.

Microsoft’s Virtual Earth isn’t too shabby though. It has also differentiated itself in lots of ways, such as bird’s-eye view. Its 3D mapping product is the most innovative in the consumer online mapping space, though it won’t be part of the AskCity integration. Virtual Earth meanwhile powers lots of local search destinations including most major U.S. IYPs.

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