Google’s challenge to mapmaker exclusivity is a good thing

A lot of folks might give Google flack over its 800 pound gorilla status whenever it enters into a new arena, myself included, but there are times where the company’s stature does do some good. Such as case is Google’s decision to start using its own accumulated mapping data for the back end of Google Maps. Up until this point it had been using the data provided by Tele Atlas and Navteq before that to populate their Maps data points.

In his post announcing the change Frederic Lardinois at ReadWriteWeb discusses the reasons why Google made the change

The question, of course, is why Google plans to make its own maps now. For one, chances are that Google is currently paying Tele Atlas a lot of money for using its maps. Mapping services are notoriously protective of how their data can be used, which is one of the reasons Apple can’t offer turn-by-turn directions in the built-in mapping application on the iPhone, for example. Google probably wants to be free to do whatever it wants to do with its maps without having to worry about licensing issues.

By providing its own maps and an API for others to use these maps, Google could potentially become a major competitor to Tele Atlas and Navteq now and if Google continues to make these maps easily available to developers without cumbersome licensing restrictions, it could bring radical change to the mapping business.

For much too long niche businesses like Tele Atlas have been able to charge exorbitant amounts of money for their services only because the competition in their field was so narrow. Regardless of how companies in niche businesses might like to claim that because their potential area of business is so small and so much work goes into providing their service they need to charge the high fees that they do.

Unfortunately this kind of action has a negative impact on innovation because of the high cost of building interesting and useful accessory services. By Google stepping into the map making business the way that they are they have removed that barrier which can only lead to innovative uses of that data.

If I were Tele Atlas or Nokia’s Navteq division I’d be doing some serious reconsideration of fees and data access because Google has once again changed the game in another industry.