Op-ed: Duopoly in digital mapping – Can web3 be the answer? Ali Husain · 8 hours ago · 3 min read
Web3’s potential to disrupt Google and Apple’s digital mapping dominance through user-empowered decentralization.
Cover art/illustration via CryptoSlate
The following is a guest post from Ali Husain, an advisor at Navigate.
While Web3 has offered an alternative to the dominance of Big Tech firms in many aspects of the technology sector, it has yet to overcome the duopoly dominance of Google Maps and Apple Maps in the digital mapping market. According to a report by Gitnux, this duopoly is maintained by the existing strength of Google and Apple’s market share and by their significant resources, allowing them to develop features like Google Street View to the extent that other projects cannot compete.
The dominance of these two companies has also forced others in Big Tech to come together to penetrate the market. Companies including Microsoft, Meta, and Amazon have agreed to form the Overture Maps Foundation to challenge the dominance of Google and Apple in the digital mapping space. In this context, where even some of the most influential Big Tech companies are struggling to gain a solid foothold, can Web3 provide the means to bring greater competition and innovation to the digital mapping market?
How is Big Tech domination depriving innovators?
Big Tech’s dominance of the market has driven up costs for innovators. For example, Google and Apple Maps do not provide access to their underlying data. In terms of Google Maps, app developers pay fees to Google via the Google Maps API per thousand Google Maps searches. Apple charges developers for using MapKit JS to embed its map directly into their websites and applications.
These maps’ street view features are also often outdated, especially in more remote areas outside of urban centers. Although there is room for improvement, very few firms can match the resources of the tech behemoths, and as such, both Google and Apple have little incentive to update the quality of their services in these more remote areas.
This adds another layer of cost to the start-up process for many entrepreneurs at a time in the business development process where financial resources are limited. The Overture Maps Foundation is attempting to offer developers a cheaper alternative but still only provides underlying data. There is a pressing need for further decentralization and a move away from Big Tech in the digital mapping market to bring even greater savings to developers and innovators.
In addition to digital mapping, both Google and Apple dominate the smartphone market, with an established duopoly over the market for apps and browsers. This allows companies to provide their branded mapping service as the default option for smartphone users and their other owned applications, furthering the duopoly and dominance of Big Tech.
Big Tech is also capturing data gathered by smaller companies’ user contributions.. For example, Google acquired Waze for $1.1bn in 2013, allowing the tech giant to integrate Waze features with Google Maps. In this case, Google itself benefitted, but the question remains: what did the community of Waze users gain as a result? This is where Web3 has the potential to provide solutions and reward users for their crowdsourced data.
Is Web3 the answer?
As with many aspects of the technology landscape, the fundamental Web3 characteristics of decentralization and giving power to end users provide the basis to challenge the dominance of Big Tech in digital mapping. Several firms have already begun attempts to build decentralized mapping networks based on blockchain. Such systems can allow end users to reap the tangible benefits from their data and also become contributors to a global network.
Rather than needing to rely on the immense and costly resources of Big Tech firms, Web3 projects can utilize near real-time user data submitted from dashcams, drones and other video devices from people around the world. Crowdsourcing user-generated imagery provides many benefits, lowering overhead costs, as firms don’t need to pay and equip a sizable number of staff to travel extensive distances to capture imagery.
Web3 can also empower users by allowing them to benefit from their own data. The sheer wealth of user data has facilitated Big Tech’s dominance in the digital mapping space they have gathered over time. To combat this, Web3 mapping platforms can incentivize people interested in Web3 or community-driven mapping platforms to contribute their data and imagery to help grow the project – arguably the very pinnacle of decentralization and underpins the entirety of Web3.
What next for the digital mapping market?
The question is not whether the potential is there for Web3 to challenge the dominance of Apple and Google in the digital mapping market, but rather, what it will take to utilize that potential. There is now a choice between continuing with the status quo and allowing Big Tech to dominate this market or opting for a new, innovative approach by utilizing blockchain technology. Given the outlined benefits of a Web3 mapping platform for entrepreneurship, competition and user empowerment, the choice is clear.