In web and location circles, much has been made of Foursquare’s recent “little announcement” of the location based, check-in, company’s decision to oust Google Maps and instead to go with OpenStreetMap data, by way of MapBox.
From reading a lot of the coverage you’d be forgiven for thinking that Foursquare has completely severed ties with Google’s mapping APIs, but this isn’t quite the story. As ReadWriteWeb notes in the last paragraph of its coverage, “Foursquare’s iPhone and Android apps won’t be affected” as the move is for Foursquare’s home on the web, foursquare.com, only.
Indeed, the current set of Foursquare smartphone apps continue to use a variety of mapping platforms. On Android and on iOS, it’s still Google Maps, not unsurprisingly given Android is effectively a Google mobile OS, and Google is still Apple’s mapping platform of choice, for now at least.
On Blackberry it’s also business as usual for Google Maps, whilst on Symbian, it’s Nokia’s mapping platform and on Windows Phone 7 it’s (currently) the Bing mapping platform.
So while this move is great news for both the OpenStreetMap community and for MapBox and, as ReadWriteWeb notes, “when you use Foursquare Explore on the Web to search for places, you’ll be taking eyeballs away from Google“, this is a move that affects Foursquare’s web presence only, not their mobile apps. Given that in order to actually use Foursquare effectively, in other words, to check-in, you need to be on a smartphone, I wonder how many eyeballs will actually be taken away from Google. Furthermore, whilst those in the location industry are looking at this keenly, I have to wonder how many users of Foursquare will actually notice the change on the web.
For Foursquare on the web this is probably a smart move and for most users of the Foursquare website, OpenStreetMap data is, as Muki Haklay noted in a paper published in 20101, “good enough“.
But not good enough apparently for some Foursquare users, who are fairly outspoken about blank or incomplete maps on the comments to Foursquare’s announcement blog post.
It would be good to think that Foursquare’s use of OpenStreetMap data will encourage their users to contribute to the underlying open spatial data set that is OSM; after all, all you really need is a GPS device, which is what most smartphones are these days. The optimist in me hopes that this will be the case. The pessimist in me, or maybe it’s the realist in me, tempers that hope with the realisation that Foursquare still makes the address of a new Place optional, that a geocode from a GPS device probably isn’t enough and that most Foursquare users neither know or care about the underlying map, caring far more about getting to the top of the leaderboard, becoming Mayor and earning badges.
Time alone will tell whether my optimistic side is right.