When Microsoft launched Bing a few months ago as a direct competitor to Google I laughed it off as another Microsoft ambition that would go the way of the Zune. Then the people at Bing tried to get creative with their visual search capabilities. I started seeing more and more advertising for Bing both on TV and on the radio (Bing is all over the ads during the breaks of the Sports Junkies radio show).
Bing is now taking on Google Maps directly with a revamped mapping experience. The Beta version of the new Bing Maps site launched today and is entirely powered by Microsoft Silverlight (Microsoft's answer to Adobe Flash). The interface is very slick and loads quickly. Since the application is now based on the Silverlight framework there are no image files to load and the transitions from place to place and zooming in and out are extremely smooth. The birds-eye view is much more detailed and clearer and Bing took a page directly out of Google Maps with the Streetside view (not nearly as detailed as Google's Street View).
What sets Bing Maps apart from Google Maps is the addition of Bing Map Apps. When browsing maps in Bing, the user is able to add in various application plugins such as Traffic, Restaurant Finders, News and other useful tools. The most impressive addition is geographical Twitter integration. By adding the Twitter Bing Map App, the user can instantly see real-time Tweets that have been geocoded to show location. Twitter recently enabled geolocation options into its API (you have to turn it on in your Twitter settings) and a few desktop and mobile Twitter applications support sending geolocation tweets. I tried sending a sample location tweet from my phone and it did show up on Bing within a few minutes.
I can totally see future full integration between Bing, Twitter and Foursquare to highlight real-time location-based information. Mobile Twitter applications give you the ability to turn off location encoding (which is good to do when you are tweeting from home). With these GPS-powered innovations and the improvements made in Google Lattitude, I'm sure we're only a year or two away from knowing exactly where everyone is at any moment of the day. Now some people are afraid of location tracking and posting your GPS coordinates but I welcome this type of social location growth. I've always embraced new technology and I've come around a bit on Bing. If anything, the features of the new beta Bing Maps will light a fire under the brilliant tech-heads at Google and I'm sure we'll see some Google Maps upgrades next year (a Flash-powered interface would be nice). On the internet, competition truly breeds innovation.