Friday 2 March 2012

Have Google Maps taken the wrong road?

It started with one or two isolated reports of companies abandoning the use of Google Maps for their websites and switching to Open Street Map (OSM) as their map server. One of the main reasons behind such a move has been Google's decision to change their charging policy for use of their maps. This seems to have forced some smaller companies into a position where they effectively had little choice but to look for a cheaper option.

The potentially bad news for Google is that this should happen at a time when OSM has reached a state of maturity that makes it a viable alternative in many cases. A website has now been set up to encourage companies to make the switch. It's not just about the quality of the data, there are also now a variety of open source tools which make the display and rendering of the OSM maps more attractive. This means that your maps don't have to look the same as those used by other sites.

The reasons for making the switch, and some of the tools available to do it, are explained quite eloquently here. It's about price, of course, but also about flexibility. Street Easy are just one of the companies that have made the switch, but the big news this week has been the decision by Foursquare to make the same move to OSM. The decision was announced on the company's blog a couple of days ago. Their decision seems to have been initially motivated by Google's change to its pricing policy but also influenced by some of the other cases.

It's the combination of free data with some innovative open source tools like Leaflet for displaying that data that seems to be winning over new users for OSM. It promises to be an interesting year for OSM and a much more complicated one for Google. 

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