Free Google Maps are no more…

It was great while it lasted…

Google has a long-established pattern of creating great, free services, and then gradually beginning to charge for them. Witness GMail for Domains, which initially allowed 50 then later 10 free accounts, but which now costs $50/user/year for new set-ups (the old, free ones are still grandfathered in — for now).

This time, it’s Maps that Google is aiming to monetize.

To that end, it began crippling embedded maps on some sites that I host this week. It went after sites with no API keys first; presumably, at some point in the future, it will cripple the rest, until I link each site to my Google billing account, or set up separate billing accounts for each of my clients.

The cost for most users appears to be $0.007 per map load, and $0.005 per Street View load. It’s not much — somewhere between $50 and $400 per year for most of the (fairly small) sites that I host — but it’s something. On top of that, there’s the time cost of setting up all the API keys and billing accounts.¬†Cleverly, Google has essentially turned me and other web developers into it’s own, private fleet of bookkeepers and bill collectors.

To salve the wound, Google allotted me a “Free One-Year Trial with a $300 Credit,” (what part of “free” does Google not understand?) presumably to cover my costs while I contact each client, explain the situation, and either set up a direct billing account for them, or share out my cost on the annual invoice I send to most clients.

I can’t help wonder whether Google isn’t feeling some pressure in the wake of Facebook’s privacy scandals. Perhaps its new CEO feels compelled to wring more revenue from non-advertising sources, lest investors begin to paint the search giant with the same brush as privacy- and security-challenged Facebook.

There are alternatives. Microsoft offers Bing, although that costs money, too. Or, there is the free OpenStreetMaps service, which is fine for many uses, though in cost-free form it lacks niceties such as satellite imagery and driving directions.

Oh, well… there’s no point complaining about it. Google really does offer a lot of pretty amazing web tech for next to no cost. If you don’t see me around town, I’ll be hunkered down at the terminal for a few days getting it all sorted out.