MapQuest fell from it’s position as the number one mapping site early last year, pushed from its perch by Google’s Google Maps. And Google and Microsoft have been beating AOL-owned MapQuest to the punch in adding features to their services, like the ability to add photos to maps, which Google introduced a full two years before MapQuest did. Now, MapQuest is making a come-back play. It is launching a beta version of a major redesign, with an emphasis on local and social networking features.
MapQuest’s uncluttered, coherent redesign (emphasized with the word “new” in its URL, http://new.mapquest.com/) is visually pleasing. New features include “one-box search”, which means there is one text-box to use whether you are looking for directions, maps or businesses, My Maps for saving custom maps and sharing them on Facebook, Twitter and Google, and, interestingly, integration with another AOL service, Patch, which provides local news, business and event information.
Emphasizing locality is increasingly important these days, and part of the reason why the check-in services like Foursquare, Gowalla, MyTown and Loopt have been picking up traction lately. MapQuest is entering the game with Patch — and another integration with the restaurant reservations service OpenTable that will let you find a local restaurant and book a table directly from MapQuest — but this may be too late as there are many other services like Yelp, Where, Geodelic (not forgetting the other big map providers, Google, Microsoft and Yahoo) trying to establish themselves as the de-facto local business locator.
So, while MapQuest’s redesign is very welcome and the end result seems well-executed (the beta runs through August), it might be a case of too little, too late (mobile versions of MapQuest for iPhone and BlackBerry only, really?). AOL is now integrating services like MapQuest and Patch and AOL Travel for booking hotel rooms, but the company clearly let the ball drop a few years ago. Even if this redesign doesn’t help MapQuest regain some of its foothold, perhaps it will at least build up its value for a possible acquisition, as some speculate.