Yes to "nobody has an API that is [...] as supported by such a huge developers community", but no to "as fast" or "as polished" :-)
Also, what is more important from the perspective of the end-user — having the most wonderful API of the world (which will only be relevant to developers) or having content-rich maps, crammed full of information?
And finally, having taken a look at some weird ways of adding map locations using the Google Maps API, it made my eyes water in frustration. Sure, embedding a map is the simplest thing in the universe. Making calls through the Google Maps API is... well, I'd say, "acceptable and reasonable". Not "excellent".
I know this article is a bit "old", as news go. In the mean time we've all heard about the Apple fiasco around their own mapping application. But it was what lead me to recover the password for my old OpenStreetMap account and start adding more geographic data.
I found that since the time I had logged in last to OSM — 18 months ago! — the sheer amount of information has been overwhelming. In one case, after editing a small section (where I happen to live), it was almost scary to see how my neighbours were doing the same — from pretty much just the street layout, in less than 48 hours, a suburb with 18.000 residents was mapped to a level of detail that most applications cannot even display (e.g. like showing tiny walls and hedges between individual family homes :) ). Obviously, the million people submitting geo data to OSM are doing a great job, slowly beating Google with their "few hundreds" of employees working specifically on Google Maps and having access to unlimited searching and cross-indexing power, and, of course, billions of US$ to buy geo databases from zillions of providers. Nevertheless, a million people can really do a great job.
But it's not only that. With the licensing changes, some things started to become questionable using Google Maps. Sure, if I put a Google Map on my (free) blog, that's fine. There might be a limit, but few people visit my blog daily, so I don't bother. But what if I put the same map on my corporate website? Theoretically, since I'm not making money from the site itself, this is fine for Google. But indirectly, by attracting people to my company, who will in turn make my company earn money, Google's licensing terms might apply. Or, if they don't, I might need a lawyer to explain that to Google.
But it gets worse. On one site for a customer, they have an application to list events (and their locations). Most events are free to attend. I'm using a plugin to manage all events and, of course, display a Google Map. But my customer also has a few paid events, and at some point, they will need to upgrade this plugin to allow registration and payment. The upgrade costs money, and the company providing the upgrade makes a living out of their "freemium" plugin that way. My customer, in turn, using this plugin, will be able to earn money from events. So who is violating Google Maps' terms of service then? Me, as a developer? The company providing a paid plugin that uses Google Maps? My customer who sells access to events and uses Google Maps to display maps next to the event venue locations?
So having all this in mind, obviously I'm not complaining about Google. They're a business, and they're tired of having start-ups building upon their freely available information — which takes billions to maintain — and get rich without paying Google anything. The same happened to Google Translator as well, but mapping might be even more serious — so many people are touting mobile integration with mapping as the best use case for mobile apps, and so many use Google's resources for free, that Google had to put a full stop to it. It's understandable. As Ryan so well puts it, Google doesn't place ads inside Maps, so "someone" has to pay Google for their willingness to provide so much cool information. That is now the case with their new licensing terms. But it means that if you're not willing to pay Google "something", you have to use some alternative instead — or face possible exclusion by Google, if they figure out you're providing paid services on top of their free maps.
@TtfnJohn you're right about being "normative". However, your argument that OpenStreetMap "[...] moved my house a half mile from where it actually is" doesn't hold! Just log in to OSM and move your house back to where it belongs! That's the advantage of OSM: you don't need anyone to "correct" your data for you (like most commercial map providers do — and like Apple's messy use of TomTom data!). You just log in, use a very simple online mapping tool (Potlatch 2), and just correct what's wrong. Very easy. It takes a few seconds to move a house around. After a few hours, the OSM map caches will be flushed and the new data will be public. What could be simpler than that?
In fact, I do that all the time, specially when working with maps for customers. Their location seems empty? No landmarks are visible on the map to help potential visitors figure out where to find your location? No problem. Log in to OSM and add all the relevant data. Even if it takes a few hours, so what? Once it's there, everybody can see it. In fact, this perfectly egoistic view of OSM (just add what is relevant to YOU!) actually works wonderfully, since a million volunteers are adding what is relevant to THEM, and, through that, beating any other freely available map provider in terms of detail.
Oh, and there is a nice extra feature, too. Since OSM is not a "one-size-fits-all" technology, but rather a lot of technologies working together, even if a customer complains and says "Google Maps have a much better way of drawing maps!" — you're not limited to use a "default" provided by the OSM main site. You can style them yourself — and, if you're lazy, you can use any of gazillions of different styles that are freely available, many of which look so much like Google Maps that they're undistinguishable at a first glance, except, of course, that they will have massive amounts of more information.
And if they don't, why worry? Just add the information yourself.
Techdirt has not posted any stories submitted by Gwyneth Llewelyn.