As developers bail out left and right, Google has launched a new developer portal for the Google Maps API. It’s intended to “inspire the next wave of innovation on the Google Maps API, and to connect developers and decision makers with the tools and services that can make their products better.”
The new site includes interactive demos and showcases highlighting third-party sites and applications. Now that it costs money to access the Google Maps API, Google wants to give developers a little more motivation to get over that hurdle. Some will. Others are fleeing to open-source alternatives, and that’s a great thing for the ecosystem.
“With the continuing evolution of the Google Maps API,” product marketing manager and Maps developer Carlos Cuesta writes, “it became clear that we needed more than just code documentation to convey what’s possible with the Google Maps API.”
Lately, that “continuing evolution” has involved charging for API access, which was mostly free for years. Now Google has to inspire a new class of Maps apps whose businesses aren’t dependent on free data.
The New York Times got a quote from Google spokesman Sean Carlson, who says that the pricing “is intended to encourage responsible use” of Maps data and “secure its long-term future.”
Google already charged major users of the API, but now smaller developers will have to pay as well. It’s not prohibitively expensive for everybody, but for businesses built on the free API access, this has forced some major changes.
In one of the most newsworthy departures so far, Foursquare switched to OpenStreetMap, starting with its Web views. We also reported on the decision by AllTrails, a big social network for outdoors enthusiasts, to partner with National Geographic Maps and start moving away from Google, a tough decision it had to make in the process of launching.
The pricing was “significantly higher than I think anyone anticipated,” AllTrails founder/CEO Russell Cook told ReadWriteWeb.
“Deep down I think the developer community knew that at some point the Google APIs they were using would stop being free,” Cook said, “but I don’t think they ever expected the price gouging. My personal opinion is that Google has every right to charge for the services they are providing, but their recent actions have been very short sighted.”
It’s unfortunate that these businesses made plans that included cheap access to Google Maps data and later had to change them. But Google Maps has to be sustainable for the platform to thrive, and so do the businesses built on it. Hopefully, these new resources for developers will help.
“Overall it’s healthy for the ecosystem,” John Musser of Programmable Web told ReadWriteWeb when Google announced the change. “Services need to be sustainable with business models that work for both sides.”
Meanwhile, open-source mapping projects like OpenStreetMap are still dwarfed by the popularity of Google Maps. But major adopters like Foursquare are changing that. They’re also helping to sustain other supporting open-source projects like Leaflet. There are even studios building gorgeous graphics for OpenStreetMaps. As the need for location services grows and smartphones proliferate, the options for maps are multiplying.
Foursquare’s new maps built on OpenStreetMap