Is Free Enough For ESRI to Gain Web Mapping Traction?

ESRI has matched the price Google, Yahoo and other mapping providers have been charging for their APIs. The leading GIS company made its JavaScript API (our ESRI JavaScript API profile) completely free. Now the question is: will anyone care?

Though not much of a player in the geoweb, ESRI has been a mainstay of GIS circles for decades. Its software is used in hundreds of government offices and its Shapefile specification was even adopted by the U.S. Census Bureau in 2007.

ESRI web map of Portland

Now its web product seeks to grab developers of new, web-based geographical applications. ESRI President Jack Dangermond sees this as an opportunity for his company:

"I see the GeoWeb as driving change that is beneficial for both users and creators of geospatial information. We'll see a whole new creative group of people take these APIs and create new, interesting approaches to mapping. A powerful new generation of Web maps will proliferate and become commonplace to Web users."

ESRI announced the platform a year ago, but it was only available to users of its ArcGIS Server software. Now ESRI is offering developers of noncommercial applications a chance to receive the same without needing to run a server. Restricting for-profit ventures in API terms of service is common, though rarely enforced.

For current ESRI users, the API is certainly useful. As the company pointed out in its press release, city governments could have internal and citizen-facing versions using the same data.

It's not as clear for those not already an ESRI shop what it provides over Google, Yahoo or any other mapping provider. However, the most common criticism of ESRI has now been answered. You can use their maps for free. Now, will you?

Hat tip: EAGLE Technology

Be sure to read the next Mapping article: Twitter API Adds Location Data - Tweets Get Realtime Geo