New pricing structure could freeze out indie developers
Google Maps has introduced usage limits. According to a blog post by Thor Mitchell, product manager, Google Maps API, developers must now reduce their usage below set limits, opt-in to paying for excess usage or purchase a Maps API Premier licence.
"We understand that developers need time to evaluate their usage, determine if they are affected, and respond if necessary," said Mitchell, noting that enforcement will only occur as of early 2012. He reasoned as follows on the changes: "[For] continued growth in adoption of the Maps API we need to secure its long-term future by ensuring that even when used by the highest volume for-profit sites, the service remains viable."
Developers we contacted were split on the decision. Matthew Budd of Yammayap told us he's "been using the Google Maps API for years and restrictions come and go". He said that Google realises its system is widely used and imposing restrictions is inevitable. "All this restriction does is clarify the reasoning behind using Google Maps as a solution and shouldn't affect general everyday usage, where a whole online application doesn't rely on it," he added, suggesting that if you do need to use Google Maps as the basis for a whole application for a client, it makes sense to purchase a Premier license to lift the restrictions.
Rik Lomas of Lomalogue said that he understood Google's desire to charge for its infrastructure, but he was critical of the pricing and the detrimental effect the changes could have in terms of experimental websites: "The new pricing structure will suppress 'hacking' and fun projects that can be built upon Google Maps,” he said. “Imagine a fun side-project gets popular or on to the homepage of Reddit – should the developer have to pay the excess charges and be forced to put adverts on?" He told us no alternative yet has the ease and quality of the Google Maps API, and considered the excess load prices to be too high: "Charging after only 25,000 free requests a day will stop developers using the API. Google should look into non-profit and for-profit licensing instead to keep developers on board."
Developer Ben Marsh also worries that smaller developers will be hit. "At peak times, Google's limits would make my own uksnowmap.com stop working before dawn. It had 0.6million page-views over the 2010-11 winter period, which I've worked out would have cost nearly £2,000 to keep running. Based on this, and given it will likely receive the same amount of traffic this winter, I will be moving to another map provider."
Marsh added that he appreciated that rendering custom-styled maps is quite a server intensive service and Google needs to cover costs, but he maintained that "if it means being charged thousands of pounds to use this service, the majority of developers will be looking elsewhere". He suggested, on reading Google Maps API - Usage Limits Now Apply, that OpenStreetMap or MapQuest could be alternatives.
Update: A Google spokesperson has provided .net with the following statement: "Non-profits are not subject to these usage limits. For example, a disaster relief map is not subject to the usage limits even if it has been developed and/or is hosted by a commercial entity. In addition we recommend that eligible non-profits apply for a Maps API Premier license through the Google Earth Outreach program. This provides a number of benefits, including the right to opt-out of advertising, higher quotas for Maps API web services, and technical support."