Microsoft today rolled out a new version of its Streetside feature for Bing Maps that is getting some credit for at least taking a different approach than Google’s Street View. The biggest change is the elimination of the 360-degree “bubble” view in favor of an approach that flattens out the images into a long horizontal strip for browsing quickly up and down the street.

The Bing Maps team explains the approach in a post announcing the change

In the past you explored Streetside imagery by navigating between “bubbles,” or discrete 360 degree views, and moving down the street was accomplished by jumping from bubble to bubble. This works, but makes it difficult for you to get a sense for a larger area like a city block. Moreover, it’s hard to pick out storefronts farther away since you really only see the ones directly perpendicular to your viewpoint with great clarity.

This new style, on the other hand, keeps the immersive experience but adds smooth left/right panning navigation that makes it easy to find what’s nearby more quickly. The street flows by as a series of smooth ground-level photographs so now you simply pan up and down the street to see the neighborhood and find what you are looking for.

Search Engine Land notes that Microsoft Silverlight is still needed for the best experience. Also helpful is the map across the top that provides a better sense of orientation, although based on my initial usage this afternoon, the method of navigating the scene using that map could be made more intuitive.

Try the feature by going to Bing Maps and clicking on the little blue person at the top of the frame.

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