Maps Apps Are The New Social Network

While I am sure most people are going to think that the title of this post is cliche, I want to point out that that is not the case at all.

A few years ago people started talking about mobile social networks and I thought that was a really interesting, but way off in time idea.  I was really wrong. I hate being wrong so consider this my effort to correct myself publicly.

The biggest evidence of this that I have seen in a public setting is the mobile social network Waze.  Waze is a really interesting, if not addictive mobile social network built around maps.  The service allows you to interact with other drivers in real time using really neat features that helps everyone in the network to get where they are going safely, economically and without delays that could not be anticipated.  There are local groups and interest groups around what you want to do.

I don’t think that Waze is the end all be all by any means. For starters, the app aspires to be a bit more of a Tom Tom style driver GPS app than I am personally interested in using.  Driving directions are nice, but the developers of it have not found a happy place between computer voice based driving directions and incoming calls, music, news, or podcasts.  There is a ton of room for innovation here.  For example, when you are listening to your favorite music site online and initiate a skype call the volume on the music site is automatically muted.  Search via Waze is still severely lacking.

Fortunately there are a ton of options out there that ensure that there will be others to follow Waze.  Did I mention that it is right about the time that Apple buy Waze? They seem like a great alternative to Google Maps.  You could take a look at Bing (I don’t know anyone who uses it) or MapQuest (dead to me because it just sucks), or maybe something else. I would love to hear about other alternatives to Google Maps.  As a developer bootstrapping a startup, I really don’t like can’t stand Google Maps.  Once you get past the really tiny API limits on Google Maps you are looking at $800+ to stay in the game.  I can’t imagine what Apple is paying for the Google Maps partnership via the iPhone, but it has to be an absurd amount of money.

What would really make my day is a service like Google Maps that had a more generous API and that did not suck. One effort moving in the right direction is OpenStreetMap.  The service is open and currently powers MapQuest.  You can get at an instance of it via MapQuest, but the service is unacceptably slow when compared to Google Maps via API. I’m hoping to get around to standing up an OpenStreetMaps server based service to see what is possible.  Even with this, there is a lot of room for improvement.  The Knight Foundation announced a grant of $575,000 to Development Seed and MapBox which should help improve OpenStreetMap quite a bit.  I look forward to following their progress.

Over the last few years I have seen some great efforts concentrated around mobile social networks and map oriented startups.  I would love to hear about more startups and efforts in this space.  Drop me a line if you are working on one or interested in working on one.

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