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realestate.com.au keeps map options open

Realestate.com.au has recently dumped Sensis' Whereis offering for Google -- the new kid in town -- whose professional mapping products are gathering local customers.

Realestate.com.au has recently dumped Sensis' Whereis offering for Google -- the new kid in town -- whose professional mapping products are gathering local customers. But Microsoft's tools are also looking increasingly attractive.

The online property listing group recently integrated the popular Google Maps into its portals, realestate.com.au chief information and operations offer Chris Vulovic told ZDNet Australia this week.

Realestate.com.au rival domain.com.au (owned by publisher Fairfax) also uses Google Maps.

"We've been with Whereis for a long time, but we've been trying to move up to new functionality," Vulovic said. "It's been a case of it's not available; we'd have to build it ourselves; we'd have to host it internally; and we don't want to be in the mapping business."

Realestate.com.au had wanted to provide satellite mapping for a long time, according to Vulovic, and implemented Google maps in a three-week process in September.

"With Google there's satellite maps, so you actually have the picture of what the streets look like ... when you're looking at a Whereis map, which is just a map, you're just looking at lines."

"Specifically for real estate, it's important because you're making your decision on a place to live -- you don't just want to see the location, especially if you're not familiar with it. You actually want to see the parks that are around, the greenery," she said.

Vulovic said government-owned company PSMA Australia was also considered when realestate.com.au was making its investigations into the switch from Whereis.

While Google offers some maps for free, realestate.com.au has a paid, service level agreement contract to guarantee uptime. Vulovic declined to reveal the contract value.

However, Google faces tough competition to retain its newly-acquired customers. Arch-rival Microsoft has been ramping up new mapping products such as Virtual Earth. While it's not yet commercially available, Vulovic has been watching Microsoft's moves with interest.

"I think that the new Microsoft mapping that's coming out will even take that [close view] a step further, cause you'll really see that bird's eye view of the architecture. You'll be able to see things at an angle, street level almost," she said.

"I think if mapping can deliver on that promise, it'll be amazing."

Despite the effort involved in migrating to Google, Vulovic said realestate.com.au would "absolutely" be prepared to adopt Microsoft maps if the product proved better than Google's.

"It comes down to: We need to know where a property is geographically located, and then integrating that into our system is just a matter of APIs -- sending data, getting a map back," she said.

"If it's good for our customers, then we'll do it."

"I think Microsoft has a really interesting product coming out in terms of the aspect of the maps. I think consumers are interested in searching not just by geography name but by landmarks they want to be around, like schools," Vulovic said.