MapQuest’s New API: MQ loses its mind? 7

Posted by science on December 17, 2008

Readers may be familiar with this site’s GeoX application, which integrates Yahoo, Google, and until the end of January, MapQuest. At that time, MapQuest is switching over to an alternative API system and decommissioning their old api. This seems to be getting a lot of good blog press, but Science is skeptical by nature. As we’ll see, not everything is as it appears.

For starters, read MapQuest’s new terms of service before you get too excited about this new “upgrade.” MQ can charge you a fee at any time for any reason (section 2.2). Some bloggers are reporting that usage is unlimited. The truth is that the usage can be unlimited or they can turn it off or throttle it with no notice (section 2.4.a) (Yahoo and Google are a bit more up front about the limits on geocoding). These issues alone aren’t all that much worse than what you get with either Y! or Goog.

Digging a little deeper I can’t even find any support for a generic RESTful API that I can use programatically. They seem to only support their custom libraries in C/AS3/.NET/JS. Of course these can be reversed engineered but that’s not the point: Does MQ not want *everyone* to use their service? Do they want to control the libraries we are using? At the moment it looks that way.

When I wrote to MapQuest asking for clarification, they responded with a link to an “Enterprise” XML/HTTP API, which I couldn’t find via searching. It’s also not clear if this API suite is available for free. Finally, this API suite sucks – it doesn’t make it any easier for the average Joe to connect to MapQuest and pull down a lat/long geocode. Goog, Y! and the old MQ all make it dog simple to get in and get out of their API. This new MQ API requires including a bunch of MQ custom libraries in order to accomplish anything.

If we dig into their developer’s terms of service, we can see that this does appear to be what they’re intending.

MQ says that you can’t use their geocoding product to generate geocodes that are stored on your own servers. Section 3 prohibits using “unencrypted coordinate data provided by MapQuest for any purpose.” Also prohibited in Section 3: “ record, save, archive, store, create a database of or otherwise copy in any manner any map and/or directions.”

It gets better. Section 3 further restricts us from being able to “grant the right to or permit (in the event that You acquire the knowledge) any third party to include or integrate into any World Wide Web page any hypertext link to Your site for the primary purpose of retrieving Functionality.” This restriction appears to prevent the development of any third party backend tool whatsoever that doesn’t use their custom libraries.

Summing up:

  • No saving data
  • No transmitting data
  • No integrating data with “hypertext links”

This seems ridiculous. Someone talk me off the ledge. It reminds of the 90’s when mapping data was proprietary and we had to pay to get access to it. It seems like MQ is trying to build a walled garden where you can play all you want on the inside, but you can’t connect it to anything on the outside. Oh wait, didn’t they get bought by AOL in 2000? In that case, I can only wonder why they didn’t do this sooner. I guess it took the suits this long to break down the doors.

Bye bye MapQuest. Good luck with this new strategy.

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  1. Mike Mon, 11 Jan 2010 19:58:30 UTC

    I know this is an old post, but I just got a unnerving email from MQ. I chose MP because it was basically free with no limitations.

    “Please keep in mind that developer access is for testing and development purposes only. When you are ready to go live please let me know, we have multiple options.”

    It says nothing about the Enterprise API, which I don’t use. Now I am worried that after all my development that they are going to pull the rug out from under me. I am a start up and I cannot afford pay to use right now. This would really thro a monkey wrench into my plans. But I can pretty much guarantee you I’ll be looking at Google’s API to swap in if they start charging. Their inroads to a space dominated by the other big three was it was free. I hope that wasn’t a carrot. The truth is though that I find their ActionScript API a little more cumbersome than the others.

  2. science Sun, 17 Jan 2010 22:00:55 UTC

    I’d say you’d be smart to build your map toolkit using an intermediate library so that you can swap out to Yahoo or Google (or whoever) should MQ in fact lose it’s mind completely and try to charge you. It’s very possible, from what I’ve seen over the last couple of years. I did write to their MQ developer email at one point and got a humane and reasonable response (written by a real engineer not a PR troll). You might try contacting them and see if they can give you some input on this.

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