Great Moments in Strategic Thinking: Google MyMaps

Om Malik at GigaOm notes that now that Google Maps has created MyMaps, a feature letting users easily map data on Google Maps, it means tough slogging for a series of startups built around the Google Maps API.

Google is announcing a new service, My Maps, that allows anyone to create their own Google Maps-based mashups, reports The Wall Street Journal. Essentially, anyone can go in and plot all the great Thai restaurants in San Francisco, and save it as SF Thai Food Maps. You can also attach YouTube videos to these maps. Think map mashups for dummies! Microsoft already offers a similar feature with its stellar and constantly improving Live Search Maps service.

The consequences of Google's announcement could be quite dire for a gaggle of map mashup start-ups including Platial, Frappr, Flagr and Plazes, to name a few that have raised millions of dollars in venture capital.

Some use the Google Maps API as an underpinning for their offering. They now face the prospect of competing with Google, which also controls the API. However, a quick review of Google's new service gives upstarts an edge on user friendliness, even though on their blog, Google claims even caveman can do it.

I don't mean to be mean, but was there any doubt that Google would ultimately make a MyMaps-like feature? And more generally, if there is something quick and easy programmatic that you are building on someone else's API, I think you should expect this to happen.

Here is a general rule of thumb to keep in mind when competing with Google that is twice as applicable for mashups.

If it is relatively easy for them to do programmatically or in an automated manner, you are ultimately dead. Real value will come if you can access offline data or capabilities that are just too niche or painful for them to do. So if you go post underwater pictures of every reef in Belize on your site and integrated with Google Maps in a mashup, you are probably safe. If you just build an additional programmatic feature to Google Maps in your application, then, sorry, if it is any good, you will have it copied.

This is not Google-specific, it is a general rule that without a proprietary edge, long-term you are usually in trouble....See what is happening with Alexa/Alexaholic for more of the same.

Posted on April 8, 2007 and filed under Online Media.