Apr 24

Tim O'Reilly

Tim O'Reilly

Google Maps pessimism, optimism

O'Reilly editor Simon St. Laurent just wrote on O'Reilly's internal "geo" list: "There's been some interesting discussion of Google and what it plans to do with Google Maps going forward on the the geowanking mailing list." He titled his message "Google maps pessimism, optimism." Here's the pessimism and here's the optimism.

If you've followed the announcement of O'Reilly's "Where 2.0 Conference" you already know that location intelligence and mapping are on O'Reilly's radar. The issues addressed in these two postings -- the need for open data if hackers are to be able to innovate in this space, limited by the fact that the underlying data suppliers such as Navteq have a near-monopoly "Intel Inside" position in all the mapping applications, limiting the options for players such as Google -- very much need to be on the industry radar as well.

(Note, I'm a big fan of creating more crossover between mailing lists and blogspace. Each has its own vibrant set of conversations, but there aren't a lot of blog links to mailing list postings, even though most mailing lists have web archives.)

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Comments: 5

  Chris Beck [04.24.05 12:13 PM]

Perhaps I am misunderstanding in what sense that Chris Holmes is using "their amazing mapping api" when he says that Google won't allow other to use it.

I'd say it has already been done: Google Maps + Craigslist Housing

[and a bunch of others, but that one is definitely the most interesting so far]

  Mikel Maron [04.26.05 09:08 AM]

Hi Tim,

"the need for open data if hackers are to be able to innovate in this space .. very much needs to be on the industry radar as well."

I'm glad to see you think so. However the Where 2.0 conference, seemingly a perfect venue to discuss this and other issues, is seemingly focused on the dominant corporate players. What about the hackers? Certainly we have something to learn from each other.

If location and mapping innovation is really on the radar, then why isn't it represented at Where 2.0?


  Ryan Blitstein [04.26.05 10:00 AM]

In response to Chris Beck…

I think Holmes and others are just frustrated that Google has never published most of their APIs, or encouraged anyone to build on top of them. Paul Rademacher's hack--and similar ones--are done by reverse engineering the protocols. There is nothing to say that Google’s code will not change six months from now, and break all the existing hack applications built on top of it.

Indeed, if any start up with a few million users tried to build an application on top of Google Maps, it would eventually use up enough of Google's server time/space that they'd need to charge them or clamp down on it. For something like Google News (which others have built hacks on) this is not as big a deal, since Google is not paying for the news data. For mapping data, they are.

They have enough cash on hand to burn money on this operation for awhile, but eventually their investors will start wanting them to justify the share price. Just as Agence France-Presse sued Google over unlicensed use of data on Google News, Google may have to sue startups over their unlicensed use of data from Google Maps.

  gnat [04.26.05 03:12 PM]

We will definitely have hackers there. Look for hackers in the Where Fair and various Higher Order Bits and panels. For example, there'll be an open source rep on the "Business Models for Open Data" panel, responsible for articulating exactly why services are not enough.

The Where Fair is going to be a showcase of cool technology from open source and research hackers--non-commercial mapping and location work that shows what's possible when the technology gets into the hands of the hackers.

Part of the problem, though, is finding "serious" work. People won't pay to see performance art, it's the financial implications we're really selling at this conference--when mapping moves from niche to mainstream there'll be great things happening. So we're showing the current niche players poised to gain (and grilling them hard about how they plan to open up and let go), the first wave of mainstream hackers (the open source guys), and what types of apps they've created.

So let me turn this around: what would you like to see us show at Where?

  mark simpkins [04.27.05 05:59 AM]


What would I like to see there? I want to see some potential civics uses for this mapping data.

This is still a big thing in Europe. I have been working on a number of projects (one where we hope to get Mikel working with us) that are tied into to the 'where'. We want to collect community reports on crime, analyse this data in feed it into research projects to be sure, but we also want to be able to have the tools and the data publicly available to a community.

These projects are being scoped under a research project known as Design Against Crime that is being run out of Central Saint Martins school of art and design.

We want to include this type of data in our projects, and whilst academic licences enable us to access much of it as soon as we want to involve the public (this is so much more than just mapping, getting public communities to feed into academic research projects that also feed into local civics project, councils, police and government), we hit stumbling blocks.

Still, it is an exciting time :)

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