Where is the Google Maps API going in the new year? No one but the development team is certain, but I’m willing to take a gamble and look once more into my cloudy crystal ball.
Since the introduction of dirving directions on maps.google.com, people in the API newsgroup have been begging for driving directions functionality to be exposed in the API. Google has repeatedly said that there are other sources for this information — many with open APIs — that are compatible with Google Maps-based mashups. However, this has done little to quiet the demand.
In 2007 I expect Google to settle whatever remaining issues they have holding back the incorporation of driving directions into the API. They might be facing licensing issues, volume computational problems or even “What’s in it for us?” business questions. However, if the history of previous feature additions is any indication, user-demand is their strongest motivator. Also, since the release of their awesome geocoding service, I can’t think of any other single feature that has greater demand than a driving directions service.
The benefits to the developer community would be immense. An explicitly sanctioned service would allow many professional map developers to start saying “yes” much more frequently to their clients. I know our clients regularly ask for this exact feature and so far we’ve been very hesitant to build in the KML driving directions hack. We simply don’t have a clear answer on whether it’s permitted or if Google is going to crack down on this form of copyright infringement tomorrow.
Only time will tell of course, but if we all keep begging I’m sure they’ll find a way to make it happen… Even if it’s just for paying enterprise clients.
More Data Layers
The satellite imagery included in the API has opened the whole world to people who may never even travel out of their hometown. With a simple click and drag of the mouse, sites such as Google sight seeing can take you anywhere on the planet, and in many cases, give you a close enough look to make out cars and even naked people.
If Google can offer two layers of data (satellite and map), then why shouldn’t we expect that it will begin to offer other complementary layers? The data for things like elevation and population density are all freely available, and would be valuable additions to many mashups. This would allow developers to focus the aspects that make their mashups unique instead of constantly making the same custom layers from public-domain data sources.
Even if Google doesn’t offer these layers I expect that some fame or fortune seeking individual will create a downloadable layer set prepackaged for this or the other mapping services. In fact those mashups that are already doing so might be able to make a few bucks on the side selling their layer-generation code to other developers.
Regardless of the source, I expect a much more accessible set of data layers to become available in 2007. Keep your eyes and inspiration open, it’s going to be interesting.
Advertisements in the Free API
If you weren’t already aware, companies can now register themselves to show up in the Google local system. This, coupled with the increase in advertising on maps.google.com, leaves little doubt that Google will start to integrate some form of advertising into the free API sooner rather than later.
The terms of service have always provided for the eventuality of Google adding things to make money from your map. However, as opposed to the forced-down-your-throat advertising that we suggested in Chapter 8 of our book, I now think that it will be closer to a joint money-making venture between you and Google. Something like AdSense for Maps which might allow developers some small amount of editorial control over what gets advertised on their map.
I’m sure there are plenty of hobbyist map developers out there that have found their idea to be so popular that the server and hosting bills alone are onerous. Many have already turned to running AdSense ads around the map, but how much more would an advertiser be willing to pay-per-click for a targeted local viewer? I imagine that it’s probably at least double.
This could be a win-win for both the developers and Google if done correctly and I expect that companies like Yahoo or Microsoft might even beat them to the punch if Google isn’t quick enough.
Note: The API key signup page explicitly states that Google will give developers 90 days notice via the official Google Maps API blog before introducing advertising into third-party sites. If the prospect of advertising bothers you, I suggest that you follow this blog closely since I might be wrong and they might force it down your throat.
The Obvious Things
There are a few other things that Google will almost certainly continue to do over the next year, and none of them warrant their own section or discussion. Things like adding more countries to the road and geocoding systems as well as ever increasing satellite imagery are obvious. They will surely continue to refine the rendering speed and execution time for larger and larger data sets and they will continue to improve support for the official web standards (like SVG) going forward.
If you think there is anything else that is on the horizon, or if you know something that I don’t, then I’d love for you to include your thoughts in the comments. Please share any scoops you’ve got, I’m dying to know.
PS: This post was inspired by and contributed to the ProBlogger Group Writing Project. If you’re visiting for the first time then welcome (please buy our book). If you’re a regular reader, then go check it out!