FourSquare drops Google Maps API for OpenStreetMap

Price, open-source Java library availability cited as major factors

Location-based social media service FourSquare this week abruptly swapped the Google Maps technology underlying its product for the OpenStreetMap, announcing a new partnership with startup MapBox.

BACKGROUND: Best of Google Maps and Google Earth 2011

"We love the idea of supporting open data through OpenStreetMap, and MapBox gives us greater flexibility on tile design for custom maps. And while OpenStreetMap has come a long way, there's still a bit of work to be done to create an atlas of the whole world (the world is pretty huge). But we're extremely excited about what we're building towards," the company stated in an official blog post.

While the initial impetus for the move away from Google Maps was the cost of the API, FourSquare stated that it believes the new underpinnings of its geosocial service represent a step up in quality.

The MapBox Streets API, which depends on data from OpenStreetMap, provides a wide range of customization options. This flexibility was singled out for praise by FourSquare, which noted that it was making minor modifications to the maps' aesthetic.

The social network also expressed excitement at becoming a part of the Leaflet javascript community as a consequence of the new partnership, and stated that it would be making its own contributions to that project in the future.

However, FourSquare added that its mobile applications would continue to use the Google Maps API, given the tight integration between the mapping components present in iOS and Android. Given the service's popularity on smartphones, this could mean that a significant proportion of the service's user base will see little change.

That said, the Leaflet library is designed specifically for high performance on mobile platforms, which could mean a major expansion in the roles of OpenStreetMap and MapBox Streets for FourSquare.

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