Now maps is a really interesting area for looking at the offerings of the large web companies, i.e. Google, Yahoo and MSN (not eBay who don't offer anything in this area but do offer APIs which produce cool maps mashups with eBay listings).
I truly don't understand the strategy here from these big internet companies. They offer out their maps API for free and get thousands of users developing and adding maps to their site showing high traffic roads, apartments for rent, used cars for sale, real estate for sale and a whole bunch more. These resources developed by developers are fab for me as a user but I simply don't understand the value they offer for the search giants. Are they intending to monetize with adverts in future, do they just want to stay friendly with geeks, who knows?
I do have one suggestion for why it's good that the search engines are offering these APIs out, perhaps they are trying to capture the future of search. Offering out map's APIs for free gives them a huge R&D network. Let's say they have 1000 developers each using their maps (a gross understatement but hey ho) and each of those spends a 3 weeks of late nights working on their cool mashup (that would comfortably add up to 40hrs a week for me as a geek who loves this stuff :) ) that gives them 120 000 hours of free developer time from people near the cutting edge and not constrained by corporate concerns. Even at just a $10 an hour wage for engineers at their company that would be $1.2million of free R&D without factoring in all the savings by not actually employing someone (a really expensive task). The numbers I have given above are all low balls, I could comfortably be 2orders of magnitude low in that $1.2million!
Certainly geo-location and local search are important and will be of bigger and bigger importance as time goes on.
- Being seen as the provider of choice thanks to all the geeks using and exposing your product
- having 1000 applications in test to see which ones take off and you can copy, improve upon and release with huge traffic driven from your user base is actually quite a good idea.
Heaven forfend but potentially these big search companies aren't just having a random altruistic brain fart and pointless API arms race but are being very canny about capturing a future search channel.
In my next post in this series (there may be other posts inbetween) I am going to chat about paid/free user Platform APIs. Specifically eBay, del.icio.us and Flickr but potentially more.