Over the past few weeks at work I’ve been looking at various solutions for visualizing complex data on maps.
Well it turns out there’s a company called AFComponents that makes a slick Flash component called UMap that makes this sort of thing pretty easy. There are other solutions out there, such as ModestMaps, which the Stamen Design guys used to build the Oakland Crimespotting site, but it’s not nearly as well-documented and has a Python back end requirement, which is kind of scary and not very compatible with our product.
Unfortunately, the AFComponents guys ran into a little problem with Google’s legal department. Seems the UMap component violates the Google Maps Terms of Service in some way. Frankly I’m hard pressed to see exactly how though.
I was told the following in an email from a rep of AFComponents:
“Because Google owns the GMap code that we developed, you can obviously use Google tiles without any restriction (and even without an API key).”
So the issue here it seems is AFC is charging money ($750 to be exact) for commercial licenses for UMap, and that money is NOT going into Google’s pocket, so Google has (apparently) told AFC they can’t make a profit by providing a tool that makes Google Maps “better” but essentially derives its value from Google Maps.
Seems pretty selfish on Google’s part, really, and potentially a violation of anti-trust laws. Google has made it pretty clear they have no interest in developing a Flash API for Google Maps (otherwise they’d have done it by now), so why not let someone else do it?