What Does The Future Of Online Mapping Look Like?

Last week we looked at the History of Online Mapping so it only makes sense to follow that up with a post on what the future looks like. As we mentioned last week it has really been in the last 15 years that we have seen a revolution in mapping thanks to the internet. The internet has completely revolutionized the way we use maps. There are a couple of areas that we see going forward as having a major impact on online mapping. We find it very helpful to fully monitor and think through the way these innovations will play out as we build and develop our platform. You always want to make sure that you are skating to where the puck is going.

Mobile Mapping

You can’t really have a discussion in 2013 about online mapping without talking about mobile mapping. I remember fifteen years ago when I first started driving, and if I was going somewhere I wasn’t familiar with, I’d call the person and ask for step by step directions. Today we simply ask for an address and punch it into our car before we pull out of the driveway. Mobile mapping is HUGE! In fact it was just in the past few months that Facebook overtook Google Maps as the #1 Mobile App.

Google_Maps_App_vs._Facebook_App_Image_1

Anyone who looks at the chart will probably instantly be able to pick out the drop off date, which had a lot to do with the launch of the iPhone 5 and Apple’s split from Google Maps being the default mapping app. I think this data obviously shows us that most everyone who has a smart phone is very comfortable with using maps on it. I don’t see this changing anytime soon and in fact only becoming more and more central to our mapping use. The adoption and increase in mobile mapping leads nicely right into our next point.

Geolocation Map Integration

One of the reasons mobile mapping has become so darn useful is the adoption of GPS in mobile phones. It wasn’t that long ago that a mobile phone attempted to guess where you were by signal triangulation. In the last decade we saw GPS devices creep into our cars, and just as fast they have been displaced with smart phones that perform the same service as a side benefit. There are tons of excellent mobile phone apps, like Foursquare and Yelp, which leverage GPS data to provide relevant information to you. I think we are going to see some of the best innovation over the next few years take advantage of GSP in the mobile space. It also isn’t defined to just mobile apps anymore as HTML5 has support for Geolocation. This last point is something we have gotten really excited about as we plan out or product roadmap.

More and Better Structured Data (APIs)

The latest data I have seen from comScore says that Google Maps accounts for 71% of all online map usage. I wish I had some better updated data. I also wish I had some recent data showing the breakdown in mobile vs. normal map usage. I say that because I wouldn’t be surprised if mobile map usage was actually greater than normal web usage. When you think about the way people use maps that aren’t direction based it is usually as a point of reference on a data map. Besides Google’s obvious dominance in the map direction space I think their powerful ability to mash up data and their robust API also directly relate to their dominance in the data map space. Maps are so powerful because it is much easier to see the correlation between different pieces of data when you can see them on a map. People regularly say that they want “something like a Google map but [they] don’t want it by Google,” but the reality is Google still offers the most powerful integrations for the best price, frequently free. We see this as an opportunity to meet a need.

I think a perfect example for a college is when you think about a virtual tour. We have all seen virtual tours that are a collection of pictures, 360’s or videos that are stitched together. If they aren’t tied to a map then it can be very hard for us to relate to this soccer field being next to this picture of a dorm or not. The map provides a powerful reference point and the ability to overlay any sort of structured data on top of it provides infinite possibilities. The more flexible we can be in allowing structured data and eventually full API access the wider range of problems you can solve.

Conclusion

I think with all three of these elements it isn’t that they are brand new ideas. It is that they aren’t fully fleshed out yet. The better mobile, GPS and APIs get the more creative and flexible innovators will be. It isn’t so much that we are trying to identify the next Facebook per say, but we are saying with these tools and infrastructure in place that the next revolutionary wave of innovation will feast. All of these are more backbone ideas but with them in place the sky is the limit.

When Henry Ford started mass producing vehicles he had no idea the trucking, racing or construction industries that would be built of the idea much less the modern assembly line. The same inventor’s ignorance can be said for Konrad Zuse when he invented the first programmable computer or Berners-Lee and the Internet. These three backbone elements will be fundamental to the next innovation of mapping.

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