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Google adds some street-level views to U.S. maps

SAN FRANCISCO (Reuters) - Google Inc. GOOG.O said on Tuesday it was introducing street-level map views of various U.S. cities, giving Web users a panoramic, 360-degree images as well as the overhead views Google Maps has offered.

Larry Page, co-founder of Google, walks by a map of the world during keynote speech at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas, Nevada January 6, 2006. Google Inc. said on Tuesday it was introducing street-level map views of various U.S. cities, giving Web users a panoramic, 360-degree images as well as the overhead views Google Maps has offered. REUTERS/Steve Marcus

With the new “Street View” feature in Google Maps, street level imagery is available for maps of the San Francisco area, New York, Las Vegas, Denver and Miami, and will soon expand to other metropolitan regions, Google said in a statement.

Users looking at Google Maps through a Web browser can navigate around a city, “virtually” walking the streets, checking out restaurants and landmarks and even zoom in on bus stops or street signs to make travel plans.

Google is playing catch-up with street-level viewing features, following in the footsteps of A9.com’s BlockView mapping feature introduced in early 2005 and showing street-level views in roughly two dozen major U.S. cities.

A9.com, a unit of Amazon.com Inc. AMZN.O, discontinued the feature in September 2006. A9 Chief Executive Udi Manber subsequently joined Google as vice president of engineering.

Microsoft Corp. MSFT.O has offered what it calls a "birds-eye" view on parts of its MSN Virtual Earth three-dimensional mapping service for several big U.S. cites since late in 2005.

Google also announced plans for “Mapplets,” a tool for independent software developers to build mini-applications that be displayed within Google Maps. Mapplets can display a variety of information, from housing listings to crime data as well as ways to measure distances between different points on the map.

Google, Microsoft, Yahoo Inc. YHOO.O and MapQuest, a unit of Time Warner Inc.'s TWX.N AOL online business, all continue to compete aggressively to create new online mapping features, said analyst Greg Sterling of Sterling Market Intelligence.

Hundreds, perhaps thousands of Web sites now rely on one of the major online map providers to create hybrid mapping applications, popularly known as “mashups,” he estimated.

Google made the announcements at the Where 2.0 conference taking place in San Jose this week. More details can be found at maps.google.com/preview.

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