's (NASDAQ:AMZN) is about to start pounding the pavement for you. The upstart engine hasn't gotten a lot of attention lately, but today it announced its entrance into the increasingly hot trend of geographic searching.

Mapping is just one of the areas that the search giants wish to capitalize on. Google's (NASDAQ:GOOG) recently launched Google Earth application definitely provided a bit of fun, letting users "fly" all over the world with its satellite imagery. is taking the whole thing a step further, enhancing regional searches with street-level photographs. As cool as Google Earth may be, at first blush Amazon's offering sounds a lot more useful in a real-world way.

The feature, currently in beta, includes 35 million images from major U.S. cities such as New York, Boston, Chicago, Los Angeles, Seattle, and Washington, D.C. Searchers can virtually "walk" up and down the street to check out the retail view, jump to the opposite side of the street (for those of you who prefer the sunny side), create driving directions with real-life pictures of intersections, and more.

The feature launched yesterday, and my attempt to go and check it out was initially fruitless, resulting in the message: "Block View Images are currently unavailable. Please try again later." However, I was recently able to virtually stroll up and down several streets in nearby Washington, D.C., and I have to say the service is pretty darn cool.

Internet mapping isn't a new idea. Mapquest, which is owned by Time Warner's (NYSE:TWX) America Online unit, is the relative veteran in the field. (I've often cursed the routes it chooses to provide in my own neighborhood, but maybe that's just me.) Yahoo! (NASDAQ:YHOO) has maps of its own, and Google supplements Google Earth with a simpler and more functional mapping feature. Google Earth, which still seems more like spectacle and entertainment than a truly useful service, is obviously gearing up to provide a more down-to-earth experience akin to

Indeed, bringing street-level images to mapping has always been the next step for the search giants (not to mention those of us who hate maps, or would like to know what to expect en route to a new destination).

Given the many things Amazon has up its sleeve lately, including the endless speculation that it may take on Netflix (NASDAQ:NFLX), it seems about time that a little bit more innovation has been poured into The search engine first hit the scene last year, and while it may have taken Amazon a while to roll out this innovation, it seems to bring a very interesting spin to commonplace searches.

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Alyce Lomax does not own shares of any of the companies mentioned.