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Mapquest tries to stem flow of users to Google Maps

December 11, 2008 |  3:40 pm

Mapquest Twitter feed for LA What do you do if you're Mapquest, once the go-to place for people looking for online maps and directions? People now have GPS devices in their cars and can fire up their iPhones for turn-by-turn instructions from Point A to Point B. And even if they do go to the Web for directions, they'll often just type the address into Google and get directions from the upstart Google Maps.

Whither Mapquest? The service is still No. 1, with 41% of all visits to mapping sites in the last week, compared with 35% for Google Maps and 11% for Yahoo Maps, according to research firm Hitwise. But Mapquest's traffic is down 21% year-over-year, Hitwise says, while Google's is up 67%.

For the last five months, the AOL-owned service has been rolling out new features to try to find new life. Today, it's adding a Twitter widget and a jobs widget with CareerBuilder. Now you can see the random musings of all the people Twittering in your neighborhood. Huzzah!

"We're really migrating from being a pure utility on the Web to being more of a destination," said Christian Dwyer, senior vice president and general manager at Mapquest. Since August, Mapquest has added features that provide users with information about their destination, allow them to change driving routes by dragging the line on the screen and help them save maps and routes to access later. Mapquest has also launched applications for mobile phones, including the iPhone.

Unfortunately, the new features make one of the biggest problems with Mapquest even bigger: They make the site really, really slow. Still, Mapquest says consumers want ...

... to find out more about routes to new places and information about those places. It's also trying to fend off competition from Google. "Mapquest is the No. 1 website for maps and directions online," Dwyer said. "It's something we fiercely defend."

But since Google is the No. 1 search engine, Mapquest is at a distinct disadvantage. Try typing your home address into Google. Your search will return a map of the address you searched and a box where you can type in another address to get directions between the two, in just one click.  Now look for where Mapquest is on that results list. It may not even be on the first page.

Dwyer said 1 out of 100 searches on Google go to Google Maps. Mapquest wouldn't mind having a few of those hits. It's too early to tell whether the "destination" strategy will work. Mapquest says it isn't finished yet: It plans to help users book hotels through Mapquest and find coffee shops along their route.

Jobs, coffee shops, hotels. What more could you want from a map? A talking model in a bikini to read you directions, perhaps? Maybe Google will have to up its game.

-- Alana Semuels

Screenshot of a Mapquest Twitter feed

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