Archive for the ‘Location’ Category

File Under: Location, Mobile

iPhoto for iOS Abandons Google Maps in Favor of OpenStreetMap

Google Maps vs Apple's custom maps. Note the increased road/path detail from OpenStreetMap visible in the Apple version of this map of Vienna, Austria.

Apple has given Google Maps the heave-ho for iPhoto on iOS, Apple’s new photo management app for the iPad and iPhone. Open up a map in iPhoto for iOS and you may notice something a bit different — the familiar beige and yellow Google Maps are nowhere to be found. Instead you’ll see Apple’s homegrown maps.

The new low-contrast look for iPhoto’s map is distinctly Apple’s, but what’s more interesting is that much of the data behind the maps comes from the open source mapping project OpenStreetMap.

For those unfamiliar with it, OpenStreetMap is an open source project that maintains an editable map of the entire globe. Anyone can make edits and add data to the map, which is why it’s often called the “Wikipedia of maps.” Although OpenStreetMap has been around for some time, it’s recently become considerably more visible as part of Microsoft’s Bing Maps. Additionally some high-profile websites are starting to move away from Google Maps — like Foursquare, which recently ditched Google Maps in favor of OpenStreetMap.

Now, with iPhoto for iOS, Apple is joining the OpenStreetMap party as well.

Apple is using OpenStreetMap data to display maps around the world. OpenStreetMap developers have discovered that Apple is using OpenStreetMap data in Chile, Austria, Italy and many other countries. OpenStreetMap is not, however, being used for the United States. In the U.S. map data appears to be gleaned from a number of sources, including the U.S. Census Bureau and possibly the U.S. Geological Survey.

Interestingly, the OpenStreetMap data Apple is using appears to be quite old, coming from sometime around April 2010. That means that unfortunately several years worth of updates and corrections from OpenStreetMap contributors are missing from Apple’s maps. The result is a map that’s fine for something like adding location details to your vacation photos, but would likely not be accurate enough to provide navigation or directions.

In other words, don’t look for the maps in iPhoto to be the source of a revamped Maps app for iOS — in their current form these maps are just not accurate enough for navigation use.

It’s also worth noting that Apple is using OpenStreetMap data without the necessary attribution. OpenStreetMap’s Creative Commons license governing maps from 2010 requires that Apple add a notice citing the source of the data. As the OpenStreetMap blog notes, the maps are “missing the necessary credit to OpenStreetMap’s contributors; we look forward to working with Apple to get that on there.”

It’s been clear for some time that Apple is looking for a way to wean itself off Google Maps. Apple has even purchased several mapping companies, including Placebase, an online-mapping company and C3 Technologies, which creates 3D maps. Despite these moves Google Maps remain prominent on iOS. Even within the new iPhoto app Google Maps apparently still provides at least some of the data being used.

File Under: Location, Web Services

Google Plans to Charge Maps Developers

Bad news, map hackers; the Google Maps free ride may be coming to and end. The Google Geo Developers blog recently detailed some changes to Google Maps API, including new rate limits and fees. Starting next year Google Maps will charge $4 per 1,000 map loads on sites where traffic exceeds 25,000 map loads per day.

The good news is that very small sites will remain unaffected since the Google Maps API will still be free for the first 25,000 views per day (those using the Google Maps styling features will be limited to 2,500 views a day).

The bad news is that once your app or website exceeds those limits you’ll be forking out $4 for every 1,000 people that hit your site (or view a map in your mobile app). Alternately, developers can cough up $10,000+ for a Google Maps API Premier licence, which, in addition to the unlimited access offers more advanced geocoding tools, tech support, and control over any advertising shown.

Google says the new fees are intended to make sure Google Maps remains free for small developers. “By introducing these limits we are ensuring that Google can continue to offer the Maps API for free to the vast majority of developers for many years to come,” writes Google Maps API manager Thor Mitchell.

The new rates will kick in next year and are unlikely to impact small sites, which will never exceed the limits, or large sites which can afford the Premier license. The real impact is in the middle — experimental sites that do something creative with Google Maps and end up going viral. No one wants a one-off experiment to end up costing a fortune.

Fortunately, according to the FAQ, sites that exceed the limits without setting up a payment system or buying a Premier license won’t immediately be shut down. “Your maps will continue to function,” says the Google FAQ, however, “a warning may be shown on your map and a Maps API Premier sales manager may contact you to discuss your licensing options.”

In other words, Google appears to be interested mainly in collecting fees from sites with consistently heavy traffic rather than experiments that see a one-time traffic spike. It doesn’t protect against every potentially expensive use case, but it should make map mashup fans breathe a little easier.

Developers worried about the potential costs of the Google Maps API can always use OpenStreetMap, which is free and, in many parts of the world, much more detailed than Google Maps. Of course, OpenStreetMap lacks some Google Maps features, most notably an equivalent to Street View.

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OpenDNS and Google Working with CDNs on DNS Speedup

A group of DNS providers and content delivery network (CDN) companies have devised a new extension to the DNS protocol that that aims to more effectively direct users to the closest CDN endpoint. Google, OpenDNS, BitGravity, EdgeCast, and CDNetworks are among the companies participating in the initiative, which they are calling the Global Internet Speedup.

The new DNS protocol extension, which is documented in an IETF draft, specifies a means for including part of the user’s IP address in DNS requests so that the nameserver can more accurately pinpoint the destination that is topologically closest to the user. Ensuring that traffic is directed to CDN endpoints that are close to the user could potentially reduce latency and congestion for high-impact network services like video streaming.

The new protocol extension has already been implemented by OpenDNS and Google’s Public DNS. It works with the CDN services that have signed on to participate in the effort. Google and OpenDNS hope to make the protocol extension an official IETF standard. Other potential adopters—such as Internet ISPs—are free to implement it from the draft specification.

It’s not really clear in practice how much impact this will have on network performance. It’s worth noting that GeoIP lookup technology is already used by some authoritative DNS servers for location-aware routing. The new protocol extension will reportedly address some of the limitations of previous approaches.

This article originally appeared on Ars Technica, Wired’s sister site for in-depth technology news.

Who Swears the Most? How Foursquare Used Hadoop to Find Out

We told you who swears the most in their code, but what about in the real world? Foursquare, the location check-in service, has used its rather large dataset to graph the “rudest” places in the English-speaking world — Manchester, U.K. takes top honors.

While the results should be taken with a grain of salt — after all the swearing is limited to Foursquare users and there’s no hint of what constitutes a swear word — the methods Foursquare used to get the data make a great intro to the world of Apache Hadoop and Apache Hive.

Hadoop is an open-source MapReduce framework — a way of processing huge datasets stored in large server clusters (or grids). While MapReduce frameworks were originally introduced by Google (which has very large datasets to work with) they’ve since grown beyond Google and their usefulness isn’t limited to large companies with massive databases.

In fact, with Amazon’s Elastic MapReduce just about anyone can easily and cheaply run their own Hadoop framework and process vast amounts of data just like Google does.

Because word search processing is generally considered the canonical example of what makes a MapReduce framework useful, Foursquare’s blog post offers a good overview of how you can use MapReduce to mine through anything from large text documents to user-contributed data like the check-in snippets Foursquare is processing.

Foursquare’s server setup is specific to them, but there’s one key element that’s worth bearing in mind — store your Hadoop data well away from your production system. MapReduce doesn’t work at the speed of the web and you don’t want it dragging your site down.

In Foursquare’s case that means using Amazon’s Elastic MapReduce plus a simple Ruby on Rails server. The result is, as Foursquare Engineer Matthew Rathbone puts it, “a powerful (and cheap) data analysis tool.”

If you’re new to MapReduce and functional programming in general, read through the Foursquare post for an overview on how MapReduce is useful and then check out the Hadoop site, as well as this overview video from Cloudera.

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File Under: Location

Google Street View, Coming Soon to a Living Room Near You

Google Street View inside the San Diego Art Institute gardens

It’s time for Google to rename its Street View feature. Google Maps’ Street View is no longer limited to streets, the company is now using tricycles to photograph off-road locations like the gardens at the San Diego Art Institute or Château de Chenonceaux in Civray-de-Touraine, France.

Google has been using the modified trikes — which house a 360° panoramic camera much like the setup on the Street View cars, but smaller and lighter — since 2009. Google previously released imagery the trikes captured in places like Stonehenge and Sea World.

Combine the latest update with Google’s previous release of Street View inside buildings and it isn’t hard to imagine that, in the future, Street View may well be in your living room.

In fact, you may be the one who puts Street View in your living room. Last year Google acquired Quiksee, an app that takes normal video input and produces video tours — much like Street View, but with no special camera required. Although Google has made no announcements since the acquisition, it’s not hard to imagine the company releasing some software that allows anyone to create Street View-like images of, well, just about anywhere.

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