Many people believe that search engines are going far beyond maps. This is true only partially. Search engines can not really search in maps. Most so called searches are locating information on maps — which is really showing the location based on the index provided by a user. The location is converted into latitude and longitudes and those lat-longs are shown on the map. Of course close-by areas are also shown. This is locating rather than searching.
Searching on maps will be a very interesting operation. It will involve attributes of locations — as seen in Google, Microsoft, or A9 results that look more like pictures. In fact, it will be combination of image searches based on pictorial attributes as well as some keyword based characteristics. So far searches based on image attributes have not been very successful in practice. Academic community has made some progress, but that has remained orthoganal to commercial applications. Even Riya.com, that uses some face recognition technology, appeared hot for some time but then I don’t hear any thing about it. I do hope that Riya and other companies like that gain some success.
Coming back to maps, this area is going to be very attractive. It will bring many interesting technologies together. So it is quite challenging task also. But now that commercial giants are addressing this, it will be interesting to see how far they can go in this direction — or is it going to be a new company that will bring this technology to real applications.