A9.com Maps: Picture This

Rob Hof

Just as maps are becoming one of the Web's prime places for innovation to flower, Amazon.com's A9.com is joining the fray. On Monday night--actually Monday afternoon, if you happened to stumble across it--the Web retailer's search site officially took the wraps off A9.com Maps. The new feature combines A9's Block View photos, developed for the Yellow Pages service it announced in January, with maps from Mapquest.

It's pretty slick, judging from a demo by A9 CEO Udi Manber today. Essentially a commercial , A9.com Maps lets you type in an address and not only get a map in some 22 cities, but on the same page, view photos of the entire block where the place is located. That's some 35 million photos overall, mostly of streets with businesses on them, though I could find my house in a decidedly residential area. You can also click anywhere on a map, and images from that street come up. And you can get driving directions, viewing photos of the whole route.

I can speculate how A9 might make money off this--local ads at the top of the list--but Manber remains resolutely mum about that. Clearly, it's not an immediate priority.

Interestingly, A9 isn't the first to do this kind of thing with its own technology. Web developer Alan Taylor beat A9 to the punch with a similar mash-up, this one using Google Maps and A9's Block View photos. But it requires messing around with software scripts, which most people won't want to do.

Still, that points to one challenge for A9: It needs to put out a Web services API for A9, or at least for some of its features, so outside developers can come up with their own innovations. Amazon itself has done that with good success so far, and Manber implies it's on the list of things to do. Judging from A9's job openings, though, his to-do list is pretty darn long.

Before it's here, it's on the Bloomberg Terminal.