Earlier this week Microsoft announced that it is making some of the imagery used in its Virtual Earth platform available for purchase (more on Virtual Earth in our VE SDK profile). The imagery, taken with Microsoft's proprietary UltraCam shown below is available for approximately 200 cities (in high resolution and averaging less than two years old).
According to Virtual Earth, An Evangelist's Blog:
This is great for offline use, wrapping your own client or creating an interface that allows for deeper zooming than the VE platform does today. You can purchase the photography through 2 vendors - Mapmart and i-Cubed.
As we reported last week, both Microsoft and Google have tapped into 'mapvertising' for generating revenues from their mapping services. This move by Microsoft brings another dimension to map services monetization, with a market that will likely be more institutional than mass consumer oriented.
We'll have to see if Google makes a similar move in the near future, and what additional avenues for monetization emerge as the mapping platforms continue to mature.
For more in-depth background on the technology behind this, see Microsoft's Mark Brown's coverage, including a series of videos titled 'Behind the Maps - The Technology of Virtual Earth.'