By CATHERINE TSAI AP Business Writer
DENVER (AP) -- Initially, the great thing about Internet mapping programs was their swiftness and ease for obtaining directions, printing them and driving the course you plotted.
Now those Web maps can travel with you, too. And get updated on the road. And, on some wireless handhelds, show you exactly where you are and if, say, an Ethiopian restaurant is anywhere near.
MapQuest Inc., acquired by America Online Inc. in 2000, was the first mover and remains tops in Internet cartography as it heads toward the10th anniversary of its Web site in February.
"As Google is to search, MapQuest has been to mapping and driving directions," said Greg Sterling of The Kelsey Group, which researches electronic directories and local media.
But a bevy of deep-pocketed competitors threatens.
"Google, Yahoo and MSN are certainly on (its) heels," Sterling said. "MapQuest is in danger if (it doesn't) continue to innovate."
Of all people going to mapping sites, 71 percent visited MapQuest.com in September, roughly even from a year ago, according to comScore Media Metrix. Yahoo Inc. drew 32 percent, also about the same as last year, while new arrival Google Inc. had a 25 percent share. (The numbers do not add up to 100 percent because some people visit multiple sites.)