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This is what I've been driving at, folks...

The World at a Glance, Plus Footnotes

Technology: Web mapping "mash-ups"
Where you can find it: Google Maps, Google Earth, MSN Virtual Earth, Yahoo Maps
Why it's important: The physical world can be annotated online and transmitted to our wireless devices.
How much it costs: Free, at the moment
When it's available: Now

Cyberspace used to be a world unto itself. Now it's being linked to real-world geography in seductive ways. In recent months Google, and then Microsoft and Yahoo in turn, have opened their next-generation mapping systems to allow anyone to create maps complete with personal points of interest—whatever suits your fancy, from the itineraries of characters in Hollywood films to the best hot dog stands in Chicago.

The map mash-up movement has enormous implications for both businesses and consumers because it lets anyone add audio-visual overlays to any map. Retailers, for example, might buy multimedia ads on a Google "shopping" map. Imagine your mobile device buzzing to indicate a special offer as you walk by a jewelry store. Private individuals will get the chance to annotate the spaces in their lives. It's easy to picture cellphone-driven audio tours of old neighborhoods or whimsical maps on which lovers have pinned their favorite poems to their favorite spots. At the moment Google, Microsoft, and Yahoo are not charging consumers to piggyback on their mapping engines. But it's not hard to see the virtual real estate boom that's on the horizon.


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