Google dropped a few bombs yesterday regarding the data that appears in their free Google Maps application. Many in the geospatial industry were struggling to understand where they obtained some of their data, and several local government owners who sell or license such things as parcel data were wondering about the legality when they viewed such data on Google Maps.
Google announced that they now own their own data for the United States, having moved beyond their license with TeleAtlas to their own self-created data set. Microsoft has long touted the ownership of their own data as a differentiator, and has sold tailored map services because they were unrestricted by data licenses. It will be interesting to see if Google makes the same appeals to local governments and businesses to set up the types of branded portals that Microsoft has been creating.
Google has also added the capability to directly create a map marker to add locations or note corrections, and you can be notified by e-mail when the change takes place. This map correction and input capability has been building for some time within their interface, but now it’s much more embedded and intuitive with a Report a Problem link in the lower right of the map or as a link in a right-click pull-down menu. This ease of reporting will certainly make their data much fresher, and may make Google Maps more of a threat to the user-generated OpenStreetMaps.
Google has added parcel data for many cities such as Los Angeles, San Francisco, San Antonio, Portland, Oregon and various other locations throughout the United States. The parcel layer is used primarily within Google Maps for finding addresses. The detail certainly isn’t good enough for the types of queries and title checks that are done with property boundary data, but it does have implications for others that are aggregating national parcel data. Mainly, what does Google intend to do with this data, and will the public availability create a backlash from the public that are seeing this data publicly displayed at a nationwide scale for the first time.
The implications of this news is slowly being absorbed in the geospatial community. The large geospatial data providers TeleAtlas and NAVTEQ have the most to lose with this freely available data on Google’s platform. The free availability of this data means far fewer customers.
Many smaller companies that have carved out interesting niches within the geospatial data space already felt threatened by Google, and now they have reason to feel even more threatened. Companies that pinned their prospects on location-based services and local marketing have seen their prospects slowly erode as Google has added ads directly on maps, and has aggregated an increasing number of points of interest. The most up-to-date map will win this race. Google has always had the resources, and now they have the tools to rapidly update the currency of their data.
Most of the companies that sell geospatial services to businesses largely pin their profits on their ability to deliver data that is hard to acquire. These companies have spent considerable sums obtaining and polishing their data and data delivery tools for the business market. With Google now adding more and more data, and without data licensing restrictions, there will likely be a number of business models failing in the near future.
Google has long prided themselves on constant updates of their map products with weekly releases of incremental updates. With this latest broad unveiling of a large number of features and developer tools, the company has once again become the dominant disruptor in the geospatial space. With the pace of change on the geospatial data front, it’s certainly tough to build a business around geospatial data or to predict where all of the activity on the “free” data front will lead.