Google previously announced (at its I/O developer conference) the creation of a Places API as part of the Google Maps API. That Places API is now open for business and being made available to third party developers. Booyah’s MyTown “check-in” app is one that has already been using it.
In short all the information and data that Google has about a place, say Gramercy Tavern in New York, will become available to developers through the API. This is exciting to many and offers the promise of a kind of open or “free” database of places (an LBS meme of late), though some might prefer a “neutral” database such as the one being developed by OpenStreetMap. As an aside, Mapquest has helped to fund OpenStreetMap and has ambitious plans to build on top of it.
Places API’s terms seem to require use of AdSense on any apps developed: “All developers wishing to use the service must already have an Adsense account, or must create one prior to applying.”
There are also other rules and restrictions regarding how data are to be presented in applications. For example, there’s no caching or storage of data locally — so to speak. (Here’s the technical discussion.)
For the near term Google said it is only going to work with “check-in” applications:
We are going to focus initially on check-in applications. These are the applications that we feel the API currently caters to well, and we are excited to work with developers building these applications to understand their requirements, and ensure that we are offering them the best possible experience.
It appears that third party applications will be able to do two basic kinds of things with the data: enable users to search for places (where they are or nearby) and/or retrieve more detailed information about specific locations (here or near).
The restriction to “check-in” applications (at least at the outset) may result in the development of lots of new check-in apps. Foursquare’s founder Dennis Crowley not long ago said that “check-ins would become a commodity.” The Google Places API would seem to all but guarantee that.