Microsoft just announced a major improvement to their Live Local service (renaming it at the same time Live Search Maps): 3D building models in 15 US cities. These buildings will be photo-realistic and the site will allow the user to zoom in and fly over them. This screenshot shows the city of San Francisco. Amazing, isn’t it? According to PC World, “Microsoft will integrate ads into these 3D models in a way it considers organic, by displaying them on virtual billboards the users will encounter as they zip around the cities”. Microsoft hopes to deploy over 100 cities in the next year. CNET has a short video showing some of the highlights.
What it means: although this is a very early deployment of a new virtual 3D world, I believe this might eventually become a competitor to Second Life, one of the leading virtual world with a booming (and quite real) economy. I can easily imagine Microsoft leveraging the X-Box connection to make this a more interesting world. As for virtual billboard advertising, what I’ve seen in virtual San Francisco is not very impressive. I would actually try to leverage existing offline billboard inventory to make this a more seamless experience.