Google Maps – the $10k gotcha.

Update (January 11, 2012) – Google Maps API Free changed slightly in April 2011 in two ways: “You can require users to log in to your Maps API Implementation if you do not require users to pay a fee.” and “You can charge a fee for your Maps API Implementation if it is an Android application downloadable to mobile devices from the Android Market.” API License section 9.1.3 Examples (a) (b). However, if you charge for your web app, Google still requires a Google Maps API for Business license. Contact them for pricing.

Here’s an excellent, very detailed multi-link post by Sebastian Delmont on how his company was able to forge an alternative using Open Source cartography tools which has advanced light years since this post was written. Dan says, “I think that someone at Google got their pricing wrong by an order of magnitude.” – I agree.

If you’re developing an commercial online app or subscription-based service using Google Maps, there’s a major gotcha you need to consider in the current Terms of Service. It’s a $10,000 gotcha. I discovered this gotcha last week when coding one of the last chunks of StartupToDo.com (a.k.a. Project X: a training/productivity community for startups and microISVs – launching soon).

In StartupToDo.com, one of the features I want to make available to the community is a decent listing of StartupToDo events, online events and actual events such as conferences, meetups, coding weekends and the like. For this last feature, what better way to display the global nature of all the startup/microISV-related things happening with increasing frequency than Google Maps?

StartupToDo.com - Events

StartupToDo.com – Events

But there’s a gotcha.

“The Maps API is a free service, available for any web site that is free to consumers,” and clicking the terms of use link will spell this out in no uncertain terms:

9. License Requirements. Google’s licenses above are subject to your adherence to the following requirements:

9.1 Free, Public Accessibility to Your Maps API Implementation. Your Maps API Implementation must be generally accessible to users without charge. You may require users to log in to your Maps API Implementation if you do not require users to pay a fee. Unless you have entered into a separate written agreement with Google or obtained Google’s written permission, your Maps API Implementation must not:

(a) require a fee-based subscription or other fee-based restricted access; or
(b) operate only behind a firewall or only on an internal network (except during the development and testing phase).

If you want to charge people in some way to use your web app (as I will be), you need Google Apps API Premier. What do you get in Premier?

Google Maps API Premier returns fast, relevant results to your customers – even on the busiest of websites. You benefit from your customers’ familiarity with Google Maps, plus the worldwide scalability and high interactivity of the mapping API. Google Maps API Premier includes everything you love about Google Maps, plus:

* Greater capacity for service requests such as geocoding
* The ability to provide secure maps over https
* Business-friendly terms and conditions
* Support and service options
* Control over advertisements within the maps

So naturally, there must be “free until you’re successful” safe harbor for startups, like there is for Google App Engine? Nope. The quote I got back promptly from Google was $10,000. A year. And yes, we mean you. The person I was emailing back was polite and put me in contact with their manager:

I appreciate your note. There are several issues behind why the model for Maps is different than for App Engine but I do appreciate your viewpoint. We are actively looking at ways to address this but unfortunately do not have an immediate term solution beyond using the free Google Maps API (which I understand is not allowable with a non publicly accessible site).

Now don’t get me wrong: Google has a perfect right to charge for it’s API and I can certainly understand why it would presumably charge sites like Zillow.com (except Zillow is now using Microsoft Bing Maps – last I looked I could have sworn it was using Google Maps…). But it makes sense for Google to help aspiring startups and microISVs get started: the Google App Engine managers get this.

It’s free to get started.
Every Google App Engine application will have enough CPU, bandwidth, and storage to serve around 5 million monthly pageviews for free. You can purchase additional resources at competitive prices when you need them and you’ll pay only for what you use.

I hope other startups contact Google: hearing from the community will help them do the Right Thing.

In the meantime, to comply with Google Maps API, this Events page (and one other) “must be generally accessible to users without charge”: not a great state of affairs for what is going to be a subscription service, but ok for now (while you’ll be able to hit this page without logging in, I -think- you won’t be able to get into the rest of the app. Please private email me at bob.walsh@47hats.com right now if you find this isn’t the case – I will be most appreciative.)

Meanwhile, back to coding…

The MicroISV Digest

DeveniusThe MicroISV Digest for the week ending July 13th, 2009.

(If you have an announcement of interest to your fellow microISV, indies or startups, please email me at bob.walsh@47hats.com with the word digest in the subject.)

News and Announcements

  • Chris Randall, Co-Founder of Devenius, Inc., has released a new version of Service Broker Assistant. This is an add-in to SQL Server Management Studio that removes the need for scripting of T-SQL to perform asynchronous messaging with SQL Server. (via email)
  • Jennifer Gazin, LaunchSquad, reached out on behalf of Cliqset – a social identity platform/API that basically has all of the features that a typical social networking platform has, but, in contrast, is completely open to any developer use the social information across their (the developers’) applications and services. (I don’t normally print PR’s, but this looked interesting.) (via email)
  • Tom Richards, Planium, is looking for feedback on a new site we’ve launched for our product Business Financial Planner – business and financial planning & analysis software for SMB’s. (via email)
  • James Standen, nModal Solutions Inc, has released Datamartist V1.0 – An easy to use, visual tool that makes data transformation simple and powerful. (via BOS)
  • The Web Startup Success Guide will start shipping next week from Amazon; you can get Chapter 6, Social Media and your Startup from Apress for free now. You’ll also find a three part excerpt from the book over at Sramada Mitra’s blog – an in-depth interview with Aaron Patzer, CEO of Mint.com (Part1, Part2) and an interview with Rebecca Lynn, a principal at Morgenthaler Ventures, on what VCs want.

Relevant Blog Posts, Videos and Articles

  • Joshua Guedalia, Two Tribes, has authored two interesting posts – the first on how they successfully performed A/B testing on download forms and in the second we talk more about the general approach to messaging and site content to promote conversions to trial downloads.
  • Some very sage advice: Ten unconventional wisdoms for funding startups.

Further (mostly relevant) Reading

  • A really useful site I found last week: Aardvark. This service lets you ask questions of its growing social network and get really good answers quickly. Last week I asked ‘Vark about subscription services for Ruby on Rails online apps and tools to mass unfollow spammers on Twitter and got excellent answers within hours. Highly recommended.

Social Media and your Startup.

twssg
How do you get press attention for your startup? How do you get any attention for your startup? Those are the two main questions Chapter 6 of my new book, The Web Startup Success Guide answers and you can get that chapter right now from Apress.

Social Media – Facebook, Twitter, and all the rest – have reshaped what it takes for startups (and microISVs) to win attention, connect with customers, and succeed. In this chapter I cover:

  • Setting up your Social Media Basic Radar.
  • How to build a successful blog as your home base in the Social world.
  • How to use Twitter to connect with your market.

As important as Social Media is to startups, getting trade and mainstream media attention matters. So how do you get coverage? I asked that question and more of Mike Gunderloy (formerly lead writer at Web Worker Daily), Marshall Kirkpatrick (Lead Writer, ReadWriteWeb), Rafe Needleman (Editor, CNET Webware), Al Harberg (President, DP Directory) and Leslie Suzukamo, (St. Paul Pioneer Press technology reporter). The answers were candid and enlightening.

<shameless plug>The Web Startup Success Guide will start shipping from Amazon July 22nd. If you’re planning to get my book, please pre-order now! Other booksellers – from the big chains to the independent booksellers – look closely at these pre-order numbers when deciding how many copies to stock. Your pre-order today means this book will be on their shelves.</shameless plug>

So what does the rise of Social Media mean for startups and microISVs? A new hat to add: the role of Chief Community Officer. When you add blogging + Twitter + Facebook + GetSatisfaction.com + traditional/online media relations you get something new: the person responsible for creating, nurturing and growing the Online Community that is part and parcel of your startup’s offering. In this chapter, I talk to three Community Managers who describe what it takes to do the job right, and I talk to Maria Sipka, one of the foremost experts on online community building.

To wrap up this first excerpt post and give you a quick taste of what this 60-page free chapter is about, here’s my interview with Rafe Needleman on what he looks for when writing up startups:

===

Rafe’s both a writer and the managing editor of Webware: setting the tone, managing about a dozen CNET and freelance bloggers, and deciding what gets covered.

Bob: What would be your dream day, as far as the startups that you would see and how they came to you? In other words, what should a startup be doing that’s smart, rather than some of the less intelligent approaches that you’ve seen?

Rafe: Well, you know it’s the product that matters. When I hear about a new product ahead of anybody else in a way that makes me sit up and take notice, that’s good. I love hearing from people who are passionate about a product, and that’s generally a founder or CEO of a company. That’s ideal.

Bob: Is it better if they talk to you directly? What about the various PR firms that are out there that get into the mix?

Rafe: I think PR has a lot of value. There are some PR people who I really do like to hear from. But, like I said, when I get a personal pitch from somebody who’s actually built a product and wants to talk to me about it, that means more to me than getting what I know is probably a pitch that’s going out to 100 people or more at the same time.

Bob: Should these CEOs of startups introduce themselves before they have something really to say? Or should they just knock on your door when they’re ready?

Rafe: Well, ready is a relative term. I like talking to companies at all stages, and the earlier the better. If we’re going to be reviewing a product, then of course the product should be something that’s in a reviewable state and something that’s close to availability. But when is the right time to talk to me depends on the company, the technology, what they’re trying to do, and what I’m trying to write about.

Bob: What sort of things do you like to hear about? Is there any particular type of startups that will really get your attention?

Rafe: Well, if I knew that, I would be building it myself.

Bob: [laughs]

Rafe: I’m always looking to have my eyes opened.

Bob: So it’s sort of the new and novel and different effect that matters? Is it harder to generate much excitement over yet another CRM system?

Rafe: Fair to say, yeah. Difficult, but there is innovation in every category. It’s possible to knock my socks off with a CRM. It’s also quite likely that there is a product that you might think that I would find tedious. Then three people who are unaware of each other are announcing similar things at the same time, and boom! I’ve got a trend. Now it’s interesting.

Bob: Where do you find new things to write about? Besides the people coming to you, where do you go look for them?

Rafe: I have a pretty extensive collection of contacts, entrepreneurs, investors, and funders. You’d be surprised how many readers reach out to me saying that they’ve seen something. I scour a lot of sources, a lot of feeds, and a lot of aggregation sites. I go to events and parties. This stuff comes in all the time from everywhere.

Bob: Do you find that Twitter is a useful way for people to contact you? Or is that not a good way to try to pitch you on a story idea?

Rafe: No. I don’t like Twitter as a way to try to contact me for a pitch. I don’t think it’s very effective for that. I like to control my incoming information through e-mail, just because it’s easier to file, keep track of, and respond to. However, I find Twitter extremely valuable as a way to reach out to people en masse. I monitor Twitter all the time. When there’s an interesting trend or something that’s very timely, I set up a filter in Twitter — a search field — and I watch to see what’s happening there. So I find Twitter extremely valuable.

I do get a lot of tips from it, and I do get a lot of feedback from it, from readers and things. But I don’t think it’s appropriate to pitch someone. Well, it’s not appropriate to pitch me on Twitter. Other people do like it. I don’t.

Bob: How about Facebook?

Rafe: Well, you know I’m not very active on Facebook, except through Twitter. My Twitter feed goes into Facebook, and I see a lot of replies to it on Facebook. But I’m not particularly active on Facebook. People do, occasionally, pitch me on Facebook, which is a really bad idea. I don’t like being pitched on Facebook, because it’s not in my e-mail system.

Bob: These are good things to know. A while back, you put together a blog, and actually it continues to this day, Pro PR Tips [http://proprtips.com]. Why do you do this?

Rafe: [laughs] Because it’s fun. Honestly, I like what I do, and I find it sometimes amusing, the bonehead moves that PR people make in trying to get their story out. I don’t think that PR people are evil. I don’t think they’re stupid. But every now and then, somebody makes an interesting blunder. I thought it would be both funny and educational to chronicle it as it went. I’m going to do more with Pro PR Tips in the future, because I think it’s a good way to get the word out and for everybody to learn.

Bob: You’ve been in the journalism business now for a long time. Has what PR firms done changed that much in the last few years? Or is it pretty much what they’ve been doing all along?

Rafe: The fundamentals of public relations and of any kind of communications have not changed, which is this: The best way to communicate with somebody is to know them and to tell them something that is personally relevant to them, either because it’s something that they find personally interesting or because it’s related to the work that they do. Everybody does different work. So the blanket pitch is generally pretty ineffective, except when it’s not. Except when you’re Google or Microsoft, and you have a story that you want to tell to everybody at the same time.

The tools and the technologies have made a big difference, as witnessed by your questions when you were asking me about people trying to reach me on Twitter or Facebook.

The ways to get a hold of people, the number of people who are trying to get a hold of people, and the number of people who are there to be got hold of have all increased dramatically. There is a lot of noise, and there’s a lot of information flying around.

The fundamentals are the direct connection. When Joe, the entrepreneur, says, “Hey, I’ve got this incredible, cool new product, new web service that will automatically make your food taste better at restaurants,” I’m going to pay attention. He sends it to me, and he says, “I know that you like eating, let me show this to you before anybody else,” I’m going to notice. That has not changed.

Bob: So that really comes under the heading of PR firms that know what interests journalists.

Rafe: Yeah. I think there’s a big value in PR. I think that some companies overuse it and use PR as their mouthpieces. I don’t always think that’s wise. Sometimes it is, but in many cases it’s not. Most companies trying to get noticed could use professional PR counsel. That doesn’t mean that they should give the PR company the microphone and have them speak on their behalf. The demo and the pitch are always more effective coming from the person who built the product, the person who started the company, or the person who’s passionate about it.

How that person gets in touch with people, how he crafts his message, and who he talks to, that is advice that a PR person can give them. But, it doesn’t mean that the PR person has to be front and center in the communications, in the dialogue.

Bob: So you see more of the value PR people as advisors rather than mouthpieces.

Rafe: Yes, although I’m talking about in an ideal world. I realize that it isn’t.

Bob: OK, any advice to startups?

Rafe: Yeah. My best advice for startups is to build a good product and don’t fall back on PR to make a sucky product good. If the product is good, then you need good PR to support it. If the product is not good, no amount of PR is going to make it succeed. The journalists will find out. The bloggers will find out. People will find out, and the product will die. If the product is good, you want it to get out to as many people as possible.

===

Google Chrome OS – it’s about paid content.

Google Chrome LogoLate last night Google announced it would build Google Chrome OS – a new operating system initially for netbooks. The online tech media immediately did its version of over-the-top Michael Jackson-like coverage: TechCrunch’s “Google Drops A Nuclear Bomb On Microsoft. And It’s Made of Chrome” was typical.

The announcement’s timing is strange: At 9:37 pm PT Google’s Sundar Pichai, VP Product Management and Linus Upson, Engineering Director up and decide it’s time to formally declare war on Microsoft? Most companies dropping “nuclear bombs” on competitors do so during business hours; the impending leaks by Ars Technica and the New York Times don’t add up motivations to announce something this big on a Tuesday night.

It doesn’t add up: this is a preannouncement in the dead of night that Google is going to start building an OS under Chrome that assuming all goes well won’t be available for at least a full year. Why alert, energize and mobilize Microsoft? Netscape-like hubris, or something else?

I’d bet something else.

Something having to do with a few hundred very unhappy people camped out in idyllic Sun Valley, Idaho as you read this. These people happen to be the people who run most of the media you consume: media magnates IAC Barry Diller, News Corp. Rupert Murdoch, Disney CEO Bob Iger, Liberty Media Chairman John Malone and about 250 other television and newspaper movers and shakers are attending Allen & Co. annual conference. This conference is all about deals – really, really large deals.

These people are unhappy because a) advertising is down a huge 8.5% this year, b) newspapers are kneeling over right and left, c) increasingly people want their media content on the web, d) they have no intention of letting what’s happened to newspapers happen to their media properties, and e) the industry as a whole has been flailing at finding some unified way of making their content pay on the web for years.

That means finding a rock solid way to ensure you pay for their content. The most successful of these has been iTunes, but you can’t run a multi-billion dollar television network on iTunes revenue.

What’s a poor media mogul to do? Well, how about getting behind a new platform? Say one of those cheapie netbooks running an OS we don’t have to pay for, like, say, Google Chrome OS? Amazon’s Jeff Bezos (he’s scheduled to attend the Sun Valley conference by the way) has proved that there’s money to be made with your own platform – like Kindle. Which would you want? A netbook running Windows XP for $400 or a netbook running Chrome with every episode of Lost, you favorite newspapers and magazines for $100 and by the way a monthly subscription fee?

Later this week Google CEO Eric Schmidt, and co-founder Sergey Brin will be attending the Sun Valley conference; expect some major dealmaking to happen.