Open Street Map - Salt Lake City

For years, the dominant force in viewing, generating, and manipulating maps has been Google Maps – and for good reason. Google has spent a lot of time making sure their maps were up-to-date as well as integrating their maps into iOS, Android, and the web. Initially, the Google Maps API was free – allowing developers to integrate Google Maps into their websites and web applications at no cost to them. In 2011, Google introduced limits on the number of API calls that can be made for free, and set pricing for API calls over those limits. For smaller websites that don’t use or display Google Maps data very often, this isn’t a huge issue.

However, websites like Foursquare that depend on rendering locations on maps as the primary purpose of their site, things can get expensive. Apps or websites that are using the Javascript API with 100,000 API calls a day or more could be shelling out at least $300 a day. For half that cost per month (as compared to per day), open-source powered MapBox provides 150,000 API calls/map views a day, and without Google’s branding and custom analytics. The cost difference alone is a huge selling point for using MapBox over Google Maps.

Cost savings aside, there’s one awesome benefit of using MapBox – open source software. MapBox heavily contributes their source on Github, for everything from custom map builders to Javascript frameworks for using map data. That’s not even the best part about MapBox, either. MapBox uses map data from OpenStreetMap, an open-source project that’s currently collaboratively building some of the most detailed maps I’ve seen on the web. The project is so successful, that it’s threatening Google’s grasp on the mapping market – even to the point where a Google IP address associated with a Google contractor was caught vandalizing OpenStreetMap’s wiki-like map project’s data.

So why is the OpenStreetMap good for the web? It introduces more competition to the mapping market, keeping Google from setting their pricing however they feel like, rather than based on the cost/demand of the product.  Additionally, more competition typically brings about better products, combating the tendency for the dominant force in a market to stagnate and cease innovating. Bing Maps, MapBox, and OpenStreetMap hopefully will continue to spur Google to improve their product and make it more affordable for developers and companies to use. Users can submit changes and fix map issues on OpenStreetMap, making it a better and more accurate map with each edit. I’m eagerly watching MapBox and OpenStreetMap grow and catch hold on the web.

If you’re a developer wanting to use map functionality in your application or website, you should look into MapBox and OpenStreetMap for your application or website. There’s already an iOS replacement for MapKit – RouteMe.