Can a Redesign Help MapQuest Find Its Way?

MapQuest, a unit of AOL (s aol), has rolled out a redesign that introduces a suite of new features — including local integration through AOL’s Patch news and directory service — in an attempt to regain some of the momentum it’s lost over the past several years. Before Google (s goog) became the globe-spanning juggernaut it is today, MapQuest was the gold standard for online maps: It was the first to provide easy online mapping functions, was one of the first to allow its maps to be embedded in pages and services, and so on. But somewhere along the way it stopped innovating, and last year, Google took the lead in the market. Will the latest version help MapQuest regain some of its lost luster?

Among the new features the service has added are:

  • One-box search for finding directions, maps and businesses
  • My Maps, which sports a simplified log-in process using existing services (AOL, OpenID, Yahoo, Google, Facebook and Twitter)
  • The ability to save and customize information, including My Maps trip itineraries, and share it with friends via social networks, including Facebook and Twitter
  • Integration of Patch’s directory information into MapQuest’s search results (e.g. restaurants, stores, government offices, local services, parks and schools)

Most of these features will come as no surprise to anyone who’s used Google Maps or Microsoft’s (s msft) map service. In other words, MapQuest has finally caught up in some ways to its competitors, after years of allowing the service to decline (it added street-level photographs last year, more than two years after Google launched that feature). It’s also upgraded the look of the site (which can be seen here) to make it more modern-looking, including redesigning its antiquated logo. But whether any of these changes will be enough to recapture users who have moved from MapQuest to Google and other services is an open question.

Maps and similar services are the kind of applications that users tend to get comfortable with, making them reluctant to switch. But while that likely helped MapQuest retain some of its users after it stopped innovating, it’s going to make it harder for the service to gain new ones. The new version of the AOL offering is also still arguably behind Google in some respects; for example, users still can’t upload their own photos. Google has had this feature for some time, but MapQuest says it’s part of its “plans for the future.”

One of the most interesting additions to MapQuest is the local information that will be coming from AOL’s unit, into which AOL has been pouring money in an attempt to own the hyper-local news and information space. Although Google has also been adding local business information, Patch’s content could be a differentiator for MapQuest. At this point, however, that’s about all the service has to rest its hopes on. There have also been rumors that AOL is looking to sell the mapping service, meaning the redesign and new features could be an attempt to buff the property up in order to catch the eye of a potential buyer.

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