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Can MapQuest Regain Momentum with Mapbox Makeover?

Mapbox UI

Reported yesterday and confirmed today  MapQuest is planning a big overhaul with under the hood and user-interface upgrades. At the center of that is a new partnership with independent mapping provider Mapbox, which also works with Foursquare, Pinterest and others.

Here’s what MapQuest said that Mapbox’s tools and UI options would provide:

In addition, MapQuest is partnering with Mapbox, a company focused on making interactive and customizable maps. The partnership is aimed at creating fully adaptable, fast-loading, and responsive maps for MapQuest’s world-class mapping solutions. This commercial agreement allows MapQuest to leverage Mapbox’s highly detailed and visually stunning maps tailored to meet the individual needs of its users and business-to-business clients.

Working with Mapbox is intended to make MapQuest more appealing to third party developers. But the company also hopes to attract more direct consumer usage with enhanced features:

  • A faster, more responsive MapQuest.com for mobile and desktop
  • New tablet experience to leverage MapQuest’s fastest growing platform
  • New mobile experiences including enhanced features for urban users
  • The intersection of content and utility will continue in all MapQuest consumer products with top partners such Priceline.com, OpenTable, SeatGeek, and more

Accordingly the company promised “a refreshed brand and user experience.”

MapQuest was the market leader and the brand synonymous with digital maps until Google displaced at number one it early 2009. Since that time MapQuest has struggled to regain its footing and figure out a differentiation strategy. In 2007 Google removed links to competitors’ mapping sites from the top of search results, which AOL blamed for some time for the displacement of MapQuest.

Either complacent or not truly understanding the strategic importance of MaqQuest, AOL executives neglected the property for years and failed to make necessary investments to keep it competitive. (Indeed it tried to sell the property more than once.) More recently executives have changed and MapQuest says today that it has seen an uptick in traffic and maintains a 20% share of the US mapping market, according to comScore data.

Recently Yahoo said it was shuttering Maps.yahoo.com and Nokia has put HERE Maps up for sale (the rumor is that the company is not getting the bids it wants despite leaked reports to the contrary). Google and Apple are now the twin towers in digital mapping in the US market and in most international markets.

While there’s also OpenStreetMap, there are few independent mapping providers in the market today (de Carta was recently acquired by Uber). MapQuest could make itself the developer’s best friend and gain adoption there. Rebuilding its consumer brand and traffic will be more challenging.

It remains to be seen what AOL buyer Verizon does with the property. However a pre-installed MapQuest app on Verizon handsets could give the product a major consumer boost.

We’re scheduled to talk to MapQuest’s GM Brian McMahon and will update this post with any additional detail or insights.

4 Responses to “Can MapQuest Regain Momentum with Mapbox Makeover?”

  1. Greg: Mapbox is headquartered in the DC region. I’ve attended meetups they’ve sponsored. I believe they did some of the back end work to enable Foursquare and Craigslist to effectively use OpenStreetMap as their base mapping tools.

    I suspect these people will be similarly helpful to MapQuest. They are a sharp group of professionals.

  2. Greg Sterling says:

    That’s good. Yes the product has a positive reputation.

  3. Robert Pine says:

    Why would they forward announce that they plan to do something in the future?

  4. Greg Sterling says:

    To give people a sense that there’s interest stuff happening there. Build morale among employees, generate buzz and coverage . . . that sort of thing.

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