AOL Seeks Directions for a MapQuest Facelift


MapQuest isn’t the shiniest online mapping service. It isn’t the most accurate or the coolest. It is so old school…well, you get the drift. Apparently, that hasn’t deterred over 47 million people who check out the service every month and make it one of the top 20 web sites on the planet.

Well, it is time for MapQuest to get a much-needed facelift. But the AOL subsidiary isn’t getting a makeover in the traditional redesign way: The service is entering a three-month long beta that will experiment with boosting usability of the site. In a conversation, Mark Law, Mapquest’s VP of product development, said the team is working working hard to layer the MapQuest data with content that is helpful to direction seekers.

Fast-food restaurants, cheap gas locations and even weather information are three examples of data that can be layered on top of Mapquest, “basically incorporating how users have been using the service and taking it to the next level,” Law told us. For instance, finding cheap gas stations has been a popular feature on MapQuest, but it is a few clicks away from the main page. It will become integrated with the map itself.

Dozens of such content-driven mashups are planned, but in the end it is the user clickstream that decides how MapQuest is going to emerge after the three-month beta phase. “We have such a large spectrum of users, so we have to be careful about it and can’t use it as a lab,” said Law.

That said, AOL has let its subsidiary languish and allowed others to come in and take market share — especially Google, which has caught up to MapQuest in terms of unique visitors. In July 2008 MapQuest had 47.4 million unique visitors vs. 39.5 million for Google Maps, generating 1.02 billion page views. Google Maps had 407 million page views in July.



I think the position of “most accurate directions on the web” is a fundamental pillar of value. Google Maps allows me to submit address corrections for review and incorporation. MapQuest should do this and more. It is not too late, but the trend is not favoring MapQuest – each year, Google Maps takes another 1-2% share of the mapping business. MapQuest is probably best served as an independent entity, not woven into the financially challenged AOL operating environment. It would probably fetch a handsome price still.

Jesse Kopelman

Pretty much everyone I know started with Mapquest, back in the day, and we’ve all abandoned it for the same reason — horribly inaccurate directions. Google is not always right, but it is a lot more accurate than Mapquest and it’s good enough to keep most from getting antsy and wanting to see what else is out there. If you are selling mapping, your number one priority has to be have accurate directions.

Libran Lover

When you say unique visitors, you don’t necessarily mean new visitors, right? I’d be interested in knowing how many actual new visitors Mapquest gets. I have noticed that not-too-tech-savvy friends and acquaintances don’t want to switch from Mapquest because that is what they started using long before Google Maps came along. It’s a classic case of first-mover advantage and consumer inertia.

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