Microsoft's 3D Visual Search Creates 'In-World Advertisement' Opportunities

Nov. 7.06 | About: Microsoft Corporation (MSFT)

What's next? Running marathons, competing in Iron Man competitions, climbing Everest, or becoming a superhero? In a virtual 3D world, you can do all of the above. But that's at least a couple years away.

For now, you can expect virtual outdoor billboards and you can start searching in 3D by using Microsoft's Live search product. Microsoft (NASDAQ:MSFT) announced Monday the availability of Virtual Earth 3D, a new online mapping interface that is part of Microsoft's search service.

I checked out the demo a couple weeks ago. It's neat. You can fly through cities (Microsoft has 15 cities lined up, such as San Francisco, L.A.) and get a sense of where you are. Microsoft plans to have 100 cities by the summer 2007. Today, you can go to www.live.com, and type in an address. Check "aerial or bird's eye" view. If you have an Xbox controller or a joystick remote, you can fly through the city pretty quickly.

msft 3d searchSo, what's the point you ask? Well, I'm not sure, exactly. I can't imagine wanting to fly through cities all that often, unless, of course, I'm traveling. What I really liked about the service is that I was able to fly to areas, such as France, and check out the topography. This is really useful for bikers who want to check out the routes on the Tour de France. You can check out elevation and grade of the climb.

Now here's the cool, or not so cool, part of MSN 3D search. You'll notice that there are a lot of billboards in the cities. Those virtual billboards are for sale to advertisers. Stephen Lawler, general manager of Virtual Earth, and Roberto Figuera, director of product management, showed me one virtual billboard that was on top of a mountain top. I was aghast. I go to the mountains to get away from advertising, I said. And, now you're littering the mountain tops!

Well, it was a joke, they said. But, it's not hard to imagine that REI might buy that virtual billboard to promote a contest about the 10 best routes to climb a mountain. Actually, that's not a bad idea.