Bing Maps. Heard of it? Evidently the tool has been around for some time in one form or another, but I'm not sure if anyone uses it. Most people I know rely on Google Maps or Google Earth. Microsoft wants you to consider an alternative.
The company will give you a chance to win a $100 gift card for taking it for a spin. All you have to do is answer four short questions in Big Maps, in a campaign that teaches you how to use the application.
The first challenge is to find the name of the street immediately to the south of Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis reservoir. Bing Maps allow you to see the street just south of the destination. Answer the question incorrectly, and you're required to watch a video on how to search and navigate through Bing Maps. Finish all the challenges and enter to win the $100 gift card. Microsoft will notify winners on or before Feb. 19.
The Streetside view in Bing Maps adjusts to changes in perspective to immerse users in a virtual experience. Zooming in lets you get a 360-degree street-level view, similar to Google Earth. But in Bing Maps, you have an option to view live traffic from Web cameras set up along city streets. In New York City, for example, I typed in the search query "intersection of 85th and Central Park West" and up popped four of the top camera views in areas nearby, from Broadway @ 46th St. to 8th Ave @ 34 St.
You can transition from satellite view to a 45-degree aerial view or street-level view, as well as see three-dimensional images of landmarks, buildings and addresses. The mapping tool even allows you to see street signs that read "don't honk."
Location is everything. Bill Slawski points to a patent from Apple that describes a couple of interesting new services the company may offer involving mobile, and parking and public transit services.
The intersection between local, search and phones will only increase this year. Microsoft Maps also pulls in local blogs written by people in a specific neighborhood to help you explore the community. Locations are marked with pushpins and by outlining the area searched on.
Microsoft ripped the "beta tag" off the Bing Maps Silverlight site on Tuesday. The company also added the Local Events application, an overlay that helps you find local happenings. Filters let you sort and search by date, popularity and event type. The Destination Map application allows people to customize maps for sending online invitations and directions. It shows the route and the major roads.