Virtual Earth Virtually Ignored? (aka What’s in a name?)

You know, of all the online "Live" services that Microsoft has, I think the mapping service has been one of best.  However, hardly no one knows about it!

On Thursday last week, Google added their new myMaps feature to Google Maps.  Wow!  The tech community went nuts about it as witnessed by the headlines on TechMeme that day.  Wanting to see what all the excitement was about, I checked out myMaps.  It's pretty cool.

It finally gives Google Maps' users the ability to do what they've been able to do for almost a year now with Live Collections in Virtual Earth.  Why so much attention for Google, but none for Virtual Earth when it added virtually the same features a year ago? 

I have a sneaking suspicion it's all in the name...  or lack thereof.   Dare Obasanjo laments that...

This product has now officially gone through more names than I've had ex-girlfriends. It's been named MSN Virtual Earth, Windows Live Local, Windows Live Maps, Live Search Maps and now Live Maps. It's sad that we are intent on screwing one of the coolest products we are shipping these days in this way. 🙁

I agree with Dare.  The Microsoft mapping service is in no mans land right now on the Internet!  There was a new release of what is now called "Live Maps" just last week, but the site still says "Live Search" with no hint of the word "Map" other than in the URL.  And that's IF you arrived at the site by entering in the address bar!  There are no less than eight different URLs that map (no pun intended) to what I still call Virtual Earth.

In general, I've always thought that marketing was an unnecessary thing and that most good products sell themselves without marketing.  However, I'm not a believer in that mantra anymore.  This is clearly a case where poor marketing has led to a great service being virtually ignored.  And that sucks, because I think Virtual Ea-- uh, Live Maps is truly the BEST mapping service out there!

Word to the Windows Live team: PLEASE please please change the name back to "Virtual Earth"!  This great service started out with the coolest name.  Make it cool again so that it's easier for folks to learn about and find!

[Update 4-17-07:] Yesterday, I posted a screencast demonstrating the Collections feature in Live Maps.

Comments (23)
  1. I was with you right up to the point that you proposed the solution to "too many name changes" was another name change…

    Live Maps is not a bad name. Changing it AGAIN would do far more harm. Market it under the name it has now, and STICK with it for a while…

    (btw, I think Live Maps is a better name than Virtual Earth. As even Google found out, having "maps" in the name is important for people looking for, y’know, maps…)

  2. @Stuart: You’ve got a point.  I’m actually cool with the name "Live Maps".  The best thing it’s got going for it is that it’s two syllables and has the word "maps" in it!  I guess I was reaching for the name Virtual Earth out of frustration since it’s what I’ve referred to the service as since it started.  Let’s hope Microsoft sticks with it!


  3. Brian says:

    Add to the list:

    This could be the next viral internet craze, see how many URLs point to this service.

  4. MP says:

    I have stored my personal maps on Yahoo Maps, I have been using this cool feature for 5 years or so. (dial-up/classic version)

    You cant "Share" the stored addresses with the world, but I never really felt the need to share them anyway 🙂

    Yahoo had integrated yellow pages with maps when google was a little known company, years before live maps.

  5. Varun Mathur says:

    I think Microsoft should drop the word "Live" completely from all of its branding for web apps.

    More here:

  6. Kevin Daly says:

    Another issue is of course is that Google have trained the pundits and the media to drool on command, whereas the "cool kids" are routinely dismissive of anything Microsoft does.

    On the other hand, in my experience Google Maps (in its various forms) has much more consistent coverage than Live Maps or whatever it’s called this week. A lot of the cool features in LM aren’t available for locations outside the United States and to some extent the UK and a few other places. Google will show me my house, but Microsoft will only show me a map of the street it’s in. Trivial I know, but those are the things that hook people.

  7. Don says:

    You want to know why? Because google maps is easier to use. I enter my address in the search bar and I get a map or I get an aerial view. I pull up Microsoft and I get a what and where box. Ok, try entering "map" in the what and my address in the where. No results. Try entering only my address on the where line, sorry you need something in the what field. Try entering my address in the what field, sorry you need something in the where field. Try entering the first part of my address in the what and the city and state in the where, nope still no results. I spent 5 minutes with this and I can’t even get a map let alone an aerial view.

  8. HalS says:

    Another reason may be that Microsoft Virtual Earth doesn’t work for bloggers. Try installing Virtual Earth 3D from FireFox XPInstall-1.exe gets stuck showing a slide show that requires TaskMgr to kill, at least on Vista.

  9. Joining Dots says:

    I had this same thought too.  When talking about it, I still call it Virtual Earth, then stumble and think that’s not right, then wonder if Virtual Earth is the name of Google’s version, then try Live something or other… and end up saying, ‘well, whatever it’s called this week’.  Creates a chuckle in the audience but it’s a painful truth.

    I’d like to see it renamed back to Virtual Earth, incorporating Live Maps.  That covers the 2 different uses for it, exploring the planet virtually and using the service for mapping benefits.

  10. My colleague Peter Laudati recently posted a good point about some of our branding…ahem…issues with

  11. @Varun Mathur – I could go either way on removing or not removing the word “Live” from the web branding.  The “Live” brand has worked well for the XBox.  I think that was likely one of the motivators behind Windows Live.   The important part is to pick a brand, make it consistent, and then stick with it.

    However, given that the brand has been so tarnished in its first year out of the gate by not following through with a good marketing strategy (i.e.  Most non-tech people still ask “What is Live?  What does that mean?”), it may be time to back off of it and fall back to old branding (MSN) or come up with something completely knew.


  12. @Kevin Daly – Coverage is based on the data providers each service partners with.  LM did start out as a US only service, but has been slowly expanding.  In some areas one service has better coverage than the other and vice versa.  For example, Google has awesome coverage of New Jersey where I live, whereas LM has crappy old black & white imagery that is 10 years old.  But a look further to the south and LM has much better imagery in places like Philly & DC.

    Within the US, LM generally has the entire country covered with older black & white imagery, with the better imagery in the cities and more populated areas.  I’ve found that Google has the good imagery in all of the cities, but typically has NO coverage beyond the grainy “high-level” stuff in rural areas.

    If you look at the Bird’s Eye view imagery, which is being added on a continuous basis, most of that is less than a year or two old.  The image quality there is virtually unmatched anywhere else.


  13. @Don – I agree with you!  The two box search entry form drives me batty too.  I’ve provided that feedback to the VE team before.  Thanks for your feedback.  The more people that provide that feedback the better.


  14. (This comment was cross posted at Scoble’s blog.)

    @Scoble – You’re right on virtually all fronts in your post. I don’t think I got the items you mentioned wrong, I just didn’t focus on them. I agree with you on the usability issues. I give Google full kudos for “one-upping” the game with a better user experience in myMaps then Collections. It’s absolutely simpler, more discoverable, and more polished.

    The feedback you just provided in your post is priceless. It’s exactly what the folks who make Live Maps need to see so that they know how they should improve their product. (FWIW, I’ve experienced some of the same issues too!)

    But here’s the rub… and this is a chicken and egg problem. If people don’t know that Live Maps exists in the first place, they’ll never use it. If they’re not using it, then they can’t provide the crucial feedback needed to the product team to improve it. A lot of the reaction to Google’s myMaps was “This is cool because it’s a new feature that no one has seen before.” And that was my point in the post, LM has had collections for some time now, but no one knew about it.

    Thanks to your post for bringing attention to the usability issues. If, as a result of either of our posts, people try out LM collections and raise that same feedback to the product team, then I think we accomplished something here. Steve from the product team already commented earlier that he’s listening. That’s cool!

    -Peter (aka JrzyShr Dev Guy)

  15. I had a similar problem with live maps.

    I was doing research in google maps and couldn’t find what I wanted, so I tried VE, which I thougt was new at the time. I tried 2 times to search for hotels in the wrong box and swore outloud at MS because they mucked it up. I’m a MS programmer, the better they do, they better I do ^^

  16. Andy says:

    I agree.  I was inspired to post on my blog too:

    You’d think a company like Microsoft would get this kind of stuff right.  They have a good product (I won’t argue about which one is best) but screw up the name and the marketing.  


  17. Last week, I lamented the fact that Virtual Earth has been virtually ignored and provided some thoughts

  18. Microsoft Developer Evangelist Peter Laudati wrote last week that Virtual Earth (Live Maps) has been

  19. Microsoft Developer Evangelist Peter Laudati wrote last week that Virtual Earth (Live Maps) has been

  20. As a follow-up to his earlier post on the marketing (or lack thereof) of our mapping services, and in

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