For years Google Maps were the standard for publishers and developers wanting to integrate maps into their sites. Google Maps were part of the original “mashup.”
Google’s early API, consumer popularity and easy (read: free) licensing terms fueled rapid adoption of Google Maps by third party publishers and developers. But last November Google announced that it would be charging its heaviest maps users starting January 1, 2012 for map views/impressions over 25,000 per day. Each additional 1,000 page loads would cost $4.
Google estimated that roughly 4,000 customers would be affected. Shortly thereafter there were several relatively unnoticed defections, citing potential costs of several hundred thousand dollars at the high end.
Starting today, we’re embracing the OpenStreetMap movement, so all the maps you see when you go to foursquare.com will look a tiny bit different (we think the new ones are really pretty). Other than slightly different colors and buttons, though, foursquare is still the same site you know and love . . .
When we initially began looking around for other map providers, we found some incredibly strong alternatives. And while the new Google Maps API pricing was the reason we initially started looking into other solutions, we ultimately ended up switching because, after all our research and testing, OpenStreetMap and MapBox was simply the best fit for us.
Foursquare ultimately used a startup called MapBox, which builds a UI on top of OpenStreetMap data.
Some people may be briefly disoriented by the new look and feel of maps on Foursquare. But Foursquare’s move may also bring more attention and legitimacy to alternative mapping tools and products, including OpenStreet Map. Part of the reason for switching is cost and part is control over a key piece of content.
If Microsoft were smart it would seize upon this opening and offer very favorable terms to developers and publishers to get them to adopt Bing Maps instead of Google. However Bing Maps aren’t free and have caps.
Another alternative is deCarta, which charges a license fee but is cheaper and offers more flexible terms vs. Google. The company also makes supplemental content available including local listings, local search functionality and locally targeted ads, for those interested.
Mapquest has two options: one free and one paid. The free option is based on OpenStreetMap; the paid option aggregates data from third party data vendors.
I predict that other developers and startups will be emboldened by Foursquare’s decision to seek alternatives to Google Maps. And Google could lose it’s highest volume customers because of fees.
It’s interesting to consider, if there is an exodus from Google Maps, whether there will be any broader repercussions for Google. There are many “ifs” here of course.
Rejection of Google Maps by developers would probably have a negative impact on the Google Maps “brand,” as well as its current position at the center of the online mapping universe. That possibility is also fueled by discomfort in some quarters over Google’s current position and market power.