Microsoft Corp. on Wednesday acquired U.K. mapping company Multimap for an undisclosed sum, as part of a move by the U.S. technology giant to offer more targeted advertising and better compete with Google Inc.
Microsoft has built its mapping services over the past few years with offerings like Virtual Earth and Live Search. Multimap, an Internet maps and location-based services company, will help Microsoft expand its location-based search engine and advertising platforms, Microsoft said.
Multimap, which has been running since 1996, is one of Europe's most popular mapping Web sites and is also available on mobile phones and personal digital assistants. It provides street-level maps, photography and travel directions to users in the U.K., Europe, Australia, New Zealand, Canada and the U.S.
Multimap's location-based services could also integrate with aQuantive, the advertising platform Microsoft acquired in May for $6 billion, Microsoft said. Multimap itself has been building advertising services in the past year, launching services that allow people to find and book hotel and restaurant reservations online, as well as buy historic and aerial photos.
"This acquisition will play a significant role in the future growth of our search business and presents a huge opportunity to expand our platform business beyond the U.K. and globally," said Sharon Baylay, general manager at Microsoft's Online Services Group.
Multimap will be run as a subsidiary of Microsoft, as part of the Virtual Earth and Search unit within the company's Online Services Group.
Microsoft has been struggling to compete with Google in the mapping space, where that company leads the market with its Google Maps and Google Earth products. Google Maps had 71.5 million unique users during October, while its Earth service recorded 22.7 million users, according to research company Nielsen Online. In comparison, Microsoft's Windows Live Maps service had 7.1 million unique users worldwide during the same period, Nielsen said. Multimap had 1.4 million users.
"This mapping technology will help us build better services and compete in the search space where we want to compete more and more and make progress on the dominant position Google has," said John Mangelaars, Microsoft's European vice president for Online Services Business, in an interview.
In addition to building its customer base, Mr. Mangelaars said the acquisition of the privately-held company will see more than 150 staff transfer to Microsoft.