Many Agents today would like to see a mapping system integrated into their web developments and there are some interesting developments on the horizon. However I will start with the difficulties in the current systems.
Domain.com.au released a mapping system and Realestate.com.au have had a system in place for some time. The problem with these mapping systems of today are that they are great for a general idea of where a property is, but as soon as you have one street crossing over another, or starting and stopping at certain points, then they seem to run into difficulties.
As an example you may have a property for sale that is in a street position that is not accurately displayed by the map. The reason this causes problems for agents is that vendors like to look at their listings online and go through these with a fine toothed comb. If it is not right they will call their listing agent every single time. As agents have no control over how the map displays these listings on Domain.com.au or Real Estate.com.au it can be very frustrating for the Agents involved.
My suggestion is for both Domain.com.au and Realestate.com.au to make sure the map tells the user that it is only an indicative display and to contact your agent for more detailed information.
Getting it right some or most of the time is not good enough, so I would suggest that the portals simply mark in a certain colour the exact street and that is it. Do not try to be too clever because it only causes pain for your agents.
The Current Players
We have all heard about GPS Systems in cars but although pricing is too steep for integration into agents web sites at the moment, it will definitely come down to an affordable level in a few years time. This will allow Agents to display exact(close to)locations of property listings directly from their systems. So lets look at a few of these systems.
Whereis – Whereis is owned and operated by Sensis (Telstra) and are in the best position to make this all work, mainly because they pretty much own the data. This will be one of the biggest revenue sources for Sensis going forward and is really quite (most of the time) good. Realestate.com.au use this and I believe Domain.com.au (not positive) are using a similar service.
Mappoint – The Microsoft Map Point System is a major competitor to Sensis and is also a good system and is getting better all the time. I only tested about 20 streets and suburbs and it did give good results (not perfect). Microsoft are keen to get this thing going in Australia and will be keen to drive pricing to affordable levels to place some pressure on Whereis.
Worldwind – This is an Open Source project from NASA and I use it as much for fun as for its usefulness. It is not really a commercial product, but may well be in the future if the open source community embraces it. You will have seen satellite images of the Asian Tsunami disaster and these came from this system. It is a hefty download at about 180 megabytes and works on the clients side (personal computer) rather than web based. The key difference is its ability to actually show you an area as you can zoom into most of the world from about 200 metres in the air. Cool hey!
Google Maps – Google purchased Keyhole about a year ago and is integrating the Keyhole system into its Google Maps, it is specific to the USA at the moment but you can go to a map (street) and also get a satellite image of the area as well, which is pretty exciting. I would love them to have a crack at Australia with this product. This is the sort of feature if it worked well that would trump all others in this market.
So as you can see, these features are on the horizon for all to benefit from. I think it will be about 2 years before we see it at pricing (monthly) that single office agencies can afford but nonetheless it WILL be a feature of agents websites going forward.