AOL Seeks Directions for a MapQuest Facelift

MapQuest isn’t the shiniest online mapping service. It isn’t the most accurate or the coolest. It is so old school…well, you get the drift. Apparently, that hasn’t deterred over 47 million people who check out the service every month and make it one of the top 20 web sites on the planet.

Well, it is time for MapQuest to get a much-needed facelift. But the AOL subsidiary isn’t getting a makeover in the traditional redesign way: The service is entering a three-month long beta that will experiment with boosting usability of the site. In a conversation, Mark Law, Mapquest’s VP of product development, said the team is working working hard to layer the MapQuest data with content that is helpful to direction seekers.

Fast-food restaurants, cheap gas locations and even weather information are three examples of data that can be layered on top of Mapquest, “basically incorporating how users have been using the service and taking it to the next level,” Law told us. For instance, finding cheap gas stations has been a popular feature on MapQuest, but it is a few clicks away from the main page. It will become integrated with the map itself.

Dozens of such content-driven mashups are planned, but in the end it is the user clickstream that decides how MapQuest is going to emerge after the three-month beta phase. “We have such a large spectrum of users, so we have to be careful about it and can’t use it as a lab,” said Law.

That said, AOL has let its subsidiary languish and allowed others to come in and take market share — especially Google, which has caught up to MapQuest in terms of unique visitors. In July 2008 MapQuest had 47.4 million unique visitors vs. 39.5 million for Google Maps, generating 1.02 billion page views. Google Maps had 407 million page views in July.