Foursquare Breaks Up With Google Maps, Is It The Beginning Of A Trend?

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.

But Google Maps defectors may become more numerous following Foursquare’s abandonment of the platform this week in favor of OpenStreetMap. The LBS company offered its rationale in a blog post:

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.

Nokia/Navteq Ovi Maps is another option. It’s free now but could come with fees in the future. There are still other choices, however they’re less complete.

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.

Related Topics: Channel: Local | Foursquare | Google: Business Issues | Google: Partnerships | Top News

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About The Author: is a Contributing Editor at Search Engine Land. He writes a personal blog Screenwerk, about SoLoMo issues and connecting the dots between online and offline. He also posts at Internet2Go, which is focused on the mobile Internet. Follow him @gsterling.

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  • calvin gong
  • http://twitter.com/mprioleau Marc Prioleau

    Good analysis Greg.  I think Foursquare is a good candidate for Openstreetmaps for a couple of reasons.  (1) Its user base is primarily in large urban centers where OSM is best.  If you read the comments below the blog post, they guys who complain about quality are in smaller towns but I suspect that’s not many on Foursquare. (2) they don’t need navigation, which is problematic on OSM (although it is being done in Germany and the UK with some success. (3) Foursquare has its own Places directory which they can overlay on OSM so they aren’t dependent on the place being in the OSM database.  That said, it will be interesting to see if Foursquare users accelerate the growth of OSM.  I suspect that the Venn diagram has little overlap. Also, I suspect Foursquare will want to keep its Places data out of OSM since that is a proprietary asset for them.  

  • http://www.edwardhighschool.com/ Online GED

     I read the whole post . Your style is so
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  • http://www.facebook.com/keenan.m.daniels Keenan Daniels

    Amateurs sure love spamming for no follow links. Amazing what some people think SEO is. Anyway, Google is making a bunch of bad decisions. Try to charge me for a map and I’d hurry up and switch.

  • the.aleex

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  • Anonymous

    Good article. Interesting that Microsoft charges for its maps. Garmin Connect gives you a choice of Google or Bing for maps. I wonder if they will change their map providers with the addition of Google Map fees. 

    Perhaps Google learned what Microsoft has known all along, you can charge for Maps.

    Not sure if anyone is reading this since spammers still have their comments live.

  • Anonymous

    I’m surprised by this move because one of the main benefits of Google Maps is that it is easy to integrate into iOS and Android apps. Despite that OpenStreerMap could offer a lot more customisation in the future

  • http://borasky-research.net/about-data-journalism-developer-studio-pricing-survey/ M. Edward (Ed) Borasky

    Is Foursquare contributing *financially* to the Open Street Map project, or did they merely switch to take advantage of Open Street Map’s lower costs?

  • http://twitter.com/mprioleau Marc Prioleau

    The switch to OSM is only for the desktop browser version of Foursquare.  All mobile apps remain unchanged.  From the Blog:(A bunch of you have asked if this affects the maps in the foursquare app on your phone. It does not. We use the mapping components that come integrated with iOS and Android. Since the iPhone SDK and Android Maps API use Google Maps in connection with their platforms, we’ll still use those maps.)

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    Vinyl Bannersthanks for sharing such a valuable information.

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