Week of April 3, 2000
  Editor's Choice Web Pick
   of the Week

MapBlast: New and Improved, But
Is It Up Your Real Estate Alley?

"Everybody needs a little direction in life." That's the tagline for the Web site for MapBlast (www.mapblast.com), which had received ample plaudits from the likes of MacWorld, PC World, Upside, USA Today and ZDNet.

Maps, of course, are integral in handling real estate -- corporate, commercial, retail, whatever. And most high-profile real estate pros now spend an inordinate amount of time traveling to unfamiliar areas, finding addresses on the fly as irate locals honk at their rental cars. (Old-fashioned cabbies, of course, used to be a sort of non-virtual MapBlast, since they knew their cities like the proverbial back of the hand. Now, of course, your inquiries to your cabby are often met with replies like, "Where is that address located? No, I do not know. I move here only two months ago. But such a nice place and such a lot to learn.")

Now, the longtime online map maven has undergone a redesign, and it's a good one. In addition, MapBlast recently added an onsite "Real Estate Center." You may find that new feature useful, or you quite well may not. As is eternally true in Webville, needs determine site value.

Redesign Eases Mapping, Adds Partners

First, the redesign.

The site has added a simple tab-style interface that has enhanced user navigation. The zoom options also seem to process more quickly. The MapBlast redesign took a similarly savvy tack in combining all of its "address options" in one place.

Now, for example, from one area you can search by criteria that include nearby landmarks and state capitals (which often mark the outer limits of stranger-in-town knowledge). You can even search by latitude and longitude, although we imagine that if your knowledge about a location has already evolved to that level of specificity, you may not need a map.

The onsite maps also have a number of interactive features useful for business travelers.

For example, say you need to get from your hotel to the airport posthaste. You can easily get a map of the area to which you'll be traveling. With that map, you can also click on an option to map-plot the locations of the nearest Hilton hotels (MapBlast is partnering with the Hilton chain).

Users who want more information can then click on any hotel map location in which they're interested. That links you to that hotel's home page, where you can check out its features and, if you wish, register. (If keeping your expenses low is a concern, we strongly suggest you click on the "Special Offers" icon on the Hilton hotel home pages. For the hotel we checked near the Atlanta International Airport, rates dipped down as low as $75 for some nights.)

In addition, the new MapBlast allows users to save up to 10 maps. That can provide blessed relief from reentering the same data over and over for repetitive needs like providing a map to your office.

New: 'Business Center,'
Downloads to Handhelds

The new MapBlast also reflects today's growing evolution toward ubiquitous computing, with small portable devices replacing the eternally PC-anchored MO. Accordingly, the new MapBlast allows users, by clicking on the "Pocket MapBlast" option, to download maps and driving directions to devices like the PalmPilot and Windows CE. If you haven't thoroughly checked out MapBlast's site in a while, you may also want to take a look at the Business Center added late last year.

Billed as "a suite of business services for people who use MapBlast at work," the Business Center contains a number of features that may be particularly helpful for users working for small businesses, which is where the site addition seems squarely aimed. (Media Metrix data, in fact, last year named MapBlast one of the top 10 Web sites for small office and home office business users.)

The Business Center, for example, helps users locate trade shows and training sessions, purchase office supplies, plan meetings, and find and book lodging.

Centers' Linkages Skew Residential

But while the site's redesign and Business Center additions seem surefire crowd-pleasers, your reaction to MapBlast's recently announced Real Estate Center (www.mapblast.com/mblast/reIndex.mb/) will likely depend much more on your real estate needs.

With one notable exception the center seems primarily focused on home buying and renting, and mortgage loans. And the Real Estate Center's online content and links seem well designed to serve the residential real estate market. In fact, Realtor Magazine last year ranked MapBlast No. 2 among the publication's "10 Essential Web Sites."

The Real Estate Center's home page also has a direct links to a number of partners who supply products and services related to the home market. Those online partners are a solid group, including Barnes & Noble, Cort Furniture, Home Depot and UHaul. (We're guessing that the B&N-relocation connection is so you'll have something to read while you're waiting for the movers . . . and waiting for the movers . . . and waiting for the movers.)

When it comes to corporate real estate, though, the newly added center provides far thinner gruel. But MapBlast's Real Estate Center could prove to useful for relocating employees trying to get their bearings in a new location.

At least for the moment, though, the center's real estate listings in some areas seem downright anorexic. In fact, we found no home listings at all - zero, zilch, nada -- for Sacramento, which has become a business location hotspot in recent years.

The Real Estate Center's Future:
The Cliff's Notes Summary Syndrome?

That spotty coverage, though, will likely change -- and probably sooner rather than later.

MapBlast's Real Estate Center has some big-name partners including, for example, VirtualRelocation.com (www.virtualrelocation.com) (reviewed earlier in this onsite column) and Homes.com (www.homes.com).

Another factor auguring well for substantial growth in the center's listings is MapBlast's already heavy usage. (Initially anemic growth that rapidly becomes adrenalized is, in fact, a sort of Cliff's Notes summary for most of the listings-heavy real estate sites that have succeeded.)

All in all, then, MapBlast's redesign and additions boost both its user value and potential market.

Is it for you? That, dear readers, goes right back to that needs thing.



©2000 Conway Data, Inc. All rights reserved. Data is from many sources and is not warranted to be accurate or current.