It’s been said before, but the bare-knuckles competition between Google, Yahoo, Microsoft, etc. is nothing but good for consumers.

Take the news tonight out of Yahoo about its mapping service. Yahoo’s released another upgrade to Yahoo Maps, making it slicker and easier to use, adding lots of functionality and offering a more robust API for developers who want integrate maps into other web sites.

Among the new features:

– A Flash-based (not Ajax) interface with a bigger map and the click-and-drag, pan-and-zoom functionality that we’ve become accustomed to with Google Maps.

– Multi-point routing, which allows people to plot driving directions for multiple locations.

– Reverse look-up. Type in an address and Yahoo Maps finds the business name.

– Lots of drag-and-drop and mouse-over tricks, such as being able to drag business listings into a box to get driving directions.

– The ability to expand the map to near-full-screen width (look for the little arrow-shaped handle on the left edge of the map).

– A tigher integration with local directory listings.

“We spent a lot of time trying to understand users’ needs,” said Yahoo Local’s GM, Paul Levine.

From an innovator’s standpoint, the best news is that Yahoo has significantly improved its maps API. One of the biggest gripes about Yahoo’s old maps API was the inability to embed Yahoo maps into other web pages. This ruled out the possibility of some of the best mash-ups, giving Google a clear lead in this area. But that’s changed. Here’s an example of Yahoo Maps integrated into a site (using the Ajax, not Flash, interface available to developers).

Developers can also mix and match the maps API with other Yahoo content API’s, such as local search, traffic incidents, Flickr photos and Upcoming.org events.

“We’re really trying to make the offering more flexible,” said Yahoo’s Jeremy Kreitler.

The service is an optional beta for now, meaning users can switch between the old and new services at will. One downside: As these services get more complex, page-load times are increasing. All in all, though, an important upgrade for Yahoo.

And that’s not all. There’s still more maps news coming down the pike in the next few days. Stay tuned.

Old maps:

New maps:

More info at the Yahoo Search Blog.