Apr 7

Tim O'Reilly

Tim O'Reilly

Relative Openness of Mapping APIs

I'm interested in drilling down on the question of why Google Maps has become the platform of choice for location mashups, rather than Yahoo! or Microsoft or MapQuest. Was it just being in the right place at the right time, and getting the momentum, or is there something about the API or the terms of service? There are hundreds of Google Maps mashups versus tens of mashups for Yahoo! Maps or Microsoft Virtual Earth, and only one for MapQuest.

I asked Schuyler Erle and Rich Gibson, co-authors of Mapping Hacks and Google Maps Hacks this same question yesterday. Schuyler replied with some thoughts, which he's since blogged on But I'd love to know more. Why are you guys continuing to choose Google maps? What features, if any, would competitors have to add, to get you to switch?

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Comments: 21

  Marcelo Calbucci [04.07.06 11:16 AM]

Don't forget that Google was the #1, so they have the early-to-market advantage.

On the last month I evaluated (without bias), all 3 solutions (G/Y/M). I was looking for compatibility across browsers, license deals, easy to integrate into my app (SampaSite). Turns out that MSN Virtual Earth was the best on those criterias. It just needed a little hack to work on Firefox (atlas.js). All of them were very buggy and full of problems. (Yahoo demos didn't work properly!)

However, I had to use Yahoo for static maps, since neither MSN or Google provides that. And Google has some non-friendly licensing terms (they changed it a little).

As I business, I don't mind paying G/Y/M if my business take off, but I must have room to "start", let's say 5000+ views a day of credit. After that they can charge me.

  casey chesnut [04.07.06 11:27 AM]

not a standard mashup, but i just added Virtual Earth tiles to WorldWind because Microsoft allowed it (/veWorldWind).
there used to be a WorldWind AddIn that did the same with Google maps ... but you won't find it anymore :(

  Julian Bond [04.07.06 12:32 PM]

Note here whether the Maps and Map APIs support locations outside the USA. Last time I looked, Yahoo!'s geocoder was USA only. Google don't officialy have a geocoder although you can screen scrape or gte the user to read and retype but their text to lat-long is amazingly good world wide.

  Adrian Holovaty [04.07.06 12:42 PM]

Google Maps was first to market, of course, but I think a few other reasons make it the best:

* The maps are prettier, hands down. (This matters!)

* Google Maps makes it easier to do the common case of displaying a simple balloon when somebody clicks on a point. When I tinkered with Virtual Earth, I found it doesn't give you any sort of "easy" balloon interface; you're responsible for drawing that yourself in HTML, and that's a pain.

  Toby [04.07.06 01:38 PM]

I used Yahoo maps on -- when I told people they were very confused why I would choose that over Google maps, when "everyone knows that Yahoo maps suck". It would seem that many people don't even realize that Yahoo has AJAX maps yet.

  GeoMullah [04.07.06 02:41 PM]

I would have to agree about Google being first to market, but it's those first implementations that hackers did that everyone broke down, learned from, and implemented. It was just timing and the way hackers are: we break things down and tinker. Eventually, ending up doing amazing things.

  james burke [04.08.06 04:48 AM]

googlemaps is still the most beautiful, simple and fastest. It's a no brainer...although the flashearth lets you surf both googlemaps and m-soft in one.

  Keith Fahlgren [04.08.06 05:34 AM]

We chose Google Maps because its TOS didn't explicitly forbid commercial use (the v2 TOS has actually removed the page view restrictions). As Marcelo said, small companies need a little free breathing room at the beginning, and I think Yahoo! is loosing a lot of money because developers aren't building as much on their platforms as they would if there were a little breathing ground for commerical projects at the bottom of the scale.

  Swashbuckler [04.08.06 07:46 AM]

I'd say part of the issue is also that Google is often viewed as "hip" while Yahoo and the rest are not.

After all, when you think cutting edge technology do you think of Google or Yahoo? I think of Google. That may not be correct. It may not be fair. But it is how I see them.

  Swashbuckler [04.08.06 07:48 AM]

An aside: does anyone else see some funky display of the comments edit box on Firefox? On FF the right hand side seems to be overlayed by the right-hand sidebar. On IE it works fine.

  Lee Rickler [04.08.06 10:18 AM]

Of course, Google Maps make it easy for even someone like me to create a useful resource like DigiLondon.

And that's not a bad thing!

  alimills [04.08.06 10:43 AM]

From the perspective of someone who's considering making a map mash-up and has mildly investigated the options, I heavily favor Google for the following reasons:

Google maps
- Google is the driving force behind AJAX credibility, and I appreciate that. I want to support them for supporting a better web.

- From the beginning (even though APIs weren't available) Google was OK with it's maps being a web service. They didn't shut down the early mashers; they didn't sue everyone. Over that early time, they gained the mashup community's trust. Maybe it's because they're a search engine instead of a portal, an operating system manufacturer, or a directions company that they encourage exploration?

- Their APIs and came out early and they work well so there's a community of people with knowledge about them. I know people who've made Google map mash ups. I can call those people.

Yahoo! Maps (and really only the Flash maps)
- Yahoo! was smart because it created maps for Flash developers to use.

- Yahoo! was mistaken to prebuild many of the obvious mashups with their Flash maps. There weren't any simple ones left to claim.

- Yahoo! maps (Flash) only covers the bay area.

Microsoft Virtual Earth
- The web is a place where information is shared and technology is open-sourced. From the beginning of both Microsoft and the web it's been made clear that they're not a web company. People like to help their own, so most web developers won't support Microsoft's technologies.

- MapQuest is a directions company - a great one. When I need directions, I go to MapQuest. When I think of a mapping web services, I think of Google maps.

- Honestly, I didn't know that MapQuest offered web services.

Those are my reasons for favoring Google. Looking through them, they seem to be mostly social. Hm? Maybe Google is the cool kid? Maybe the above suggests what makes them that way?

  Scootdown [04.08.06 04:51 PM]

Google Maps had first-mover-advantage, but:
1) They're faster when loading
2) Look much better
3) Have more places internationally

Also, in theory, I tihink that people are high on Google. Since it's massive popularity and growth people get excited over whatever google is excited about (ok, except maybe Finance and their download 'pack'). Yahoo is so 90's... and Microsoft, well, is microsoft...

Check out for an example of a mah-up with google maps.

  Peter Nixey [04.09.06 02:57 AM]

Hi Tim,

I'm in the process of doing a mashup right now and I've chosen Google Maps. Since I've seen it in so many other places it was the obvious one to work with but I did look at Yahoo, MS maps and MapQuest.

Yahoo was attractive because it offered geocoding which Google doesn't but I can get that without using its map and the page views limitation was a big turnoff. Looking a little deeper the Yahoo question turned out to be academic as it doesn't cover the UK which is where I'm based.

As a lone developer I don't have the time or resources to be able to evaluate services very fully before deciding which to go with. A quick scan of both MS Mpping and MapQuest didn't indicate anything that made it better than Google maps and also indicated a lot of commercial pricing packages that flagged potential problems further down the development road.

Google Maps had a proven pedigree, offered everything I needed (except geocoding), made it explicitly clear that there would be no page view limits (v2) and looks beautiful.

Other than geocoding, no other mapping service convinced me that they had useful function beyond what Google was offering and all of them promised constraints.

  Joe Hunkins [04.09.06 09:25 AM]

Thanks for this "research" post Tim. I'm building a road cams mashup and came to the conclusion based on very little study, that Google was easiest but Yahoo more robust. But if Adrian Holvaty says "Google", then Google it is - he's easily one of the sharpest mashup developers anywhere.

  jr [04.09.06 10:48 AM]

alimills? What are you talking about? Yahoo Flash maps cover the US and Canada.

  Mikel Maron [04.10.06 02:37 AM]

Data. The difference in the breadth of mapping and imagery data made available in the APIs seems key to their sustained uptake. All offer mapping layers in the US, and then..

Google has complete UK and Japan street layers. The region around Torino was added for the Winter Olympics. So, they are licensing more data when the demand is there, and leave open the possibility of more. Google's satellite and aerial imagery coverage is global, with highly detailed imagery for all of the world's major cities.

Yahoo differentiates by offering US Street Geocoding, a feature which gives them a big advantage.

Microsoft actually offers UK street mapping, a decent regional road network for Western Europe, and cities locations globally. The lack of uptake here I put down to a missed marketing opportunity on Msft's part.

btw, mapstraction is a newly minted project aimed at easily migrating between these services.

  nando [04.11.06 07:46 AM]

As simple as: when I first heard that I (and any user) could use GoogleMaps and mashup it, it was the time of Google Earth launching (some months later or earlier, actually), and the impact was stronger thatn Y! and MQ. Now, if you were a user like I was in that particular time, you would see that if you typed anything relate to create your own map or mashup with a map, the results would point to services that used GoogleMaps.

And there you go. A whole picture.

  Jeffrey McManus [04.11.06 08:53 AM]

Tim, I'm curious to know how you came to the conclusion that Google has "thousands" of mash-ups? (This may be true or not, I'm just curious as to how one arrives at this figure.)

  Tim O'Reilly [04.11.06 09:23 AM]

Jeffrey -- I thought maybe I'd gone into rhetorical overdrive, and said "thousands" when I meant "hundreds," and went to fix the entry...and noticed I had indeed said "hundreds." So I'm wondering how you came to the conclusion I said "thousands" :-)

As to how I came by hundreds, I went to, where John Musser has a nice list of each, and counted. The links are in the story. If there are missing Y! mashups, be sure to send them to John.

  Anonymous [04.18.06 01:53 PM]

Last fall, a few months after I put up a Google-maps based mashup, I got a funny email from a product manager at Microsoft asking whether I'd be willing to rebuild it with Microsoft technology. I didn't answer.

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