When it comes to online maps, Google Maps is the software that comes to most people’s minds.
However, the general public might not be aware that back in October 2011 Google announced a change in their policy regarding usage limits of their Maps API. Since then, although it remains free to utilise, any website whose map is used by over 25,000 people within a single day has had to pay a fee.
Google reports that this change has only affected the top 0.35% of sites that use Google Maps, based on their current usage stats.
Although this change doesn’t affect QWS, it got me thinking about the impact such a cost would have had on our site if we were part of the 0.35%. Would we have changed map provider? What other map providers are there?
I decided to investigate a few alternatives.
At first glance this map software appears to be quite similar to Google Maps (albeit without the double-clicking zoom functionality). As you zoom in though, OSM is certainly a lot more colourful. Given that the map is run as a wiki that anyone can update, it is unsurprisingly well-detailed – including displaying buildings in their correct shape.
Whilst this added detail and colour was initially appreciated, I soon realised how much harder it made it to spot things on the page, with so much content. Also of note – given the fact that anyone can update content, just how reliable is the map data being presented to us?
What’s immediately apparent about this software is just how basic it is. Colour has been kept to a minimum, and building shapes have been left out entirely. Though this might be a disadvantage to some, I actually liked it – it gives me exactly the information I was looking for without any distractions.
Another aspect of this map software that I liked was the right-click feature. By right-clicking a location on the map, the user is presented with the estimated address of the location.
I normally avoid using Internet Explorer as much as possible, but given that Bing Maps is a Microsoft product, I opted to view it in IE9.
Surprisingly, Bing Maps was smooth and actually a pleasure to use. When scrolling and zooming, it felt efficient, and seemed to load faster than Google Maps and in a more stylish way.
It’s ‘Streetside’ feature actually goes a step further than Google Maps’ Street View, offering a sideways ‘slide’ view. Not necessarily the most useful feature, but nice all the same.
Although I’ve barely scratched the surface of these other map providers, their existence has proven to me that alternatives to Google Maps do exist, and my brief play with then has suggested they might be viable. Whether they are as easy to setup for a developer and their APIs as well-documented, is another question.