Google Maps and Flash/Flex

Over the past few weeks at work I’ve been looking at various solutions for visualizing complex data on maps.

After spending some time playing around with Google Maps (the clear leader in this space, at least in terms of mindshare), I came to the conclusion that their Javascript-based solution was simply too slow to handle our needs. What we need, I thought, is a Flash-based solution running on top of a mapping server (like Google Maps). The application that convinced me of this approach is the Oakland Crimespotting web site, which features an interactive map of crimes in Oakland. (Incidentally, this site also made me very glad that I don’t work in downtown Oakland any more!). Another good example is this interactive map of the NYC subway system.

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?

It does seem ironic that in this case, Microsoft (who has agreed to let AFComponents access their Virtual Earth mapping service) is being a lot more open than Google. Who’s being evil now???

2 thoughts on “Google Maps and Flash/Flex

  1. Please keep in mind that our Maps API is subject to the particular contracts that we have with the data providers, and that we must enforce those contracts. If the data was our own, this would all be a different story.

    Anyway the part of the Terms of Use it would violate is:
    “1.2 Content in the Service. Content in the Service includes map information and photographic imagery. Your use of this Content is limited to displaying it to end users within the Service itself, and in the same manner, form, format, and appearance as it is provided by the Service. You may not, nor may you allow others to, copy, distribute, display, alter, or otherwise use the Content except as it is provided to you through the Service. Google reserves the sole right and discretion to determine whether your display of the Content through the Service is in conformance with this Section, and also reserves the right to terminate or suspend your access to the Content at any time for any reason, without notice.”

    Basically, you can’t retrieve tiles from Google unless you’re doing so from within our documented Javascript Maps API.

    We know that developers would like to be able to do it from Flash and other environments, and we’re constantly working on making that easier. (i.e. we just released the Static Maps API for use in mobile environments).

  2. Thanks Pamela! I’m honored to get your comments.

    With all due respect, doesn’t Microsoft also license its data from the same providers (NavTeq, et al?)

    The Static Maps API does seem like a step in the right direction, but what would really make my day is a full-blown Flash/Flex API. Any chance of that ever happening?

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