Online maps are essential to our lives. We all rely on them to some degree as they have grown in relevance and applicability over the years. Gone are the days when checking online maps was reserved for seeking answers to curious geography questions, though. Now, digital maps are integrated into our mobile apps as well as our in-car navigation, and we use them to give us detailed directions on the roadways and to search the the location of local businesses. Some of these applications of the maps lend themselves to internet marketing and search engine optimization more than others, most notably, local business searching, however they all factor into the mapping market and impact the direction the sector will take.

From MapQuest to OpenStreetMap
In the last decade we saw MapQuest rise as a leader in online mapping, then this was passed onto Google Maps who has for several years dominated both the search and map markets. Google broke from the free mapping model recently, however, at least in some forms of their Map operations as they now charge websites and apps that use Google Maps API ($4 for every 1,000 visitors over 25,000).

These charges pushed some websites and apps away and has added fuel to the open source mapping movement. OpenStreetMap, a “free wiki world map” platform, is a leader in the sector and is now being used by Apple iOS instead of Google Maps. Foursquare is also cutting ties with Google and is instead using open source MapBox on its platform. This movement by Apple and Foursquare represent strategic distancing from Google Maps by big industry players that could become a trend if Google does not re-evaluate their API pricing.

Strategic Positioning by Microsoft, Nokia, and Apple
Additionally, other companies appear to be making a strong push at online mapping looking to give users a competitive alternative to the dominant Google Maps. Microsoft and Nokia recently began a strategic partnership that saw them roll out a new shared mapping platform for Bing Maps and Nokia Maps that presents a different user experience than Google. Further, Apple appears to be mounting their own run at mapping considering their own purchases of mapping companies C3 Technologies, Poly9, and Placebase in previous years and their apparent search for mapping engineers, as pointed out by Gizmodo.

It’s clear the online mapping sector is going through an evolution of sorts indicating it may not look the same in come the end of the year, 2 years from, and so on. With these developments, two bigger questions result. First, how is the emergence of open source mapping impacting the sector, and second, how would a mapping service by Apple further impact the sector and SEO? Check back in tomorrow and I’ll address those two questions.