The way out for Google Maps? Supporting OPENStreetMap


The Google Maps fleet is mighty, but may be slowly sinking. Unless…

The way out for Google Maps? Supporting OPENStreetMap /img/google-planisphere.png

I like OpenStreetMap (OSM), the Wikipedia-like “online map that everybody can edit”. However, I have to agree with Joe Morrison when he says that it is Google Maps that, “Since its appearance, has consistently created the best consumer-facing maps in the world: they are top of the class in turn-by-turn navigation, geocoding, satellite imagery layers, street level imagery, place data, and on, and on.”

However, says Morrison, it is likely that the golden era for Google Maps, and its whole ecosystem, including Street View is coming to an end.

In a nutshell, the reason for this decline would be fear and conservatism, rather than innovation. Using or offering advanced services based on Google Maps has become excessively complex, or expensive, or both. As the Morrison post quotes, many actions and policies by Google Maps seem “the actions of an organization that is annoyed they ever let people become their customers.” And this, just to try to keep a tiny fraction of the revenues that Google still makes from searches.

Eventually, these “annoyances” could make the Google Maps ecosystem lose its primacy. Both the usual suspects with oceans of money (Amazon, Apple, Facebook, Microsoft) plus newcomers like Mapbox are rapidly expanding their mapping-related services.

Come to the NOT dark, OPEN Side, Google!

Morrison does not believe Google can maintain its lead in digital maps without switching to the same strategy that all the others are already embraced to challenge it: using OpenStreetMap as THE one, common digital map open to all. Imagine, says Morrison, a world in which:

  • the 3D globe was a public good
  • competitive advantage on mapping services came from offering user experience, convenience, and creativity, instead of locking data
  • Google, and everybody else, “ride the OSM wave instead of fighting it”, that is uploaded all their mapping data inside OSM, and then just compete at “what they’re really great at: building great software.”

I really hope Morrison is right. Maps define as everybody see the world. To a non-negligible extent, maps ARE the world. They cannot be drawn by just one player, whoever it is.

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