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Ready For Your Close-Up? Tencent’s Online Maps Bring StreetView to China

Lhasa's Potala Palace shown in the new Soso StreetView feature at maps.soso.com.

The Chinese search engine Soso.com has added a Google-esque ‘StreetView’ feature to its online maps. It launched over the weekend, and initially covers just three areas – the modern city of Shenzhen; the ancient Tibetan capital, Lhasa (pictured above); and one scenic mountain region. More cities in China are being visited by Soso’s StreetView camera cars, and will go online in due course.

Soso is run by social media giant Tencent (HKG:0700), and so this very expensive new feature – which market leader Baidu (NASDAQ:BIDU) doesn’t have – shows that Tencent is taking its search engine and complementary parts very seriously. Indeed, we saw earlier this month that Soso had surpassed Google to become China’s second most popular search engine.

No, that's not Paris... The entrance to Shenzhen's 'Window on the World' theme park in Shenzhen.

Soso’s StreetView – still in beta – has all the usual dragging, zooming, and dropping pins that we’re all familiar with from Google’s, which rolled out in 2007. It also has a night-time mode, so that you can feast your eyes on some neon-lined streets. Tencent is based in Shenzhen, which likely explains why it’s the first major city to get this feature. One smaller but very experienced mapping company has already rolled out its own camera cars in China, which means that Soso’s effort is not the first.

But, there are two bugbears with this: one is that it’s Flash-based, and the other is that Soso’s StreetView fails to work in most modern browsers, and I had to fake using an old version of Firefox in order to get it to work at all. It’s probably fine on IE7 or something. That’s some old skool thinking.

Google has rolled out its StreetView in the Greater China area – such as Hong Kong, and parts of Taiwan – but it’s inconceivable that the American company would get permission to do the same thing in mainland China.

In related news, Baidu launched a satellite view on its online maps service last month.

[Source: 36kr - article in Chinese]



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