[aprssig] aprs.fi and Google Maps API pricing changes, status update

Ron Stordahl AE5E ronn5in-aprssigroup at yahoo.com
Tue Oct 16 16:11:31 EDT 2018

I am impressed with beta.aprs.fi!  It is great that there is an alternative.
I obviously do not understand the fine points, but beta.aprs.fi looks good.
Ron Stordahl, AE5E


    On Tuesday, October 16, 2018, 1:33:56 AM CDT, Heikki Hannikainen <hessu at hes.iki.fi> wrote:  

Here's the current status of aprs.fi, Google Maps API pricing, and 
Leaflet/OSM mapping.

As most of you already know, Google bumped up the pricing of the Maps API 
significantly this summer, so that aprs.fi would have paid about 
4000-5000€ (4500-5700 USD) per month to use the fine maps, and assorted 
services (superb address search, and a few other goodies). Understandably, 
that'd be more than I could pay, and a difficult amount to come up as 
donations or subscription fees, every month.

As a contingency plan I made a port of aprs.fi using Leaflet for mapping. 
Leaflet can load map tiles from tile servers (or services) which generate 
PNG map images from, for example, OSM data. A few individuals and 
companies reached out to me and offered to provide access to their tile 
servers for PNG OSM maps, either for free, or for a discount. This version 
is still running on https://beta.aprs.fi/.  It uses Geonames for address 
search, which is not that great. Google can actually do proper searching 
of street addresses in Finland (or Japan, in Japanese), for example, while 
Geonames will only find cities and towns. OSM maps are better than Google 
maps in some places in the world, and less good in others.

At the same time I exchanged several emails and some phone calls with 
Google's representatives in the sales support, and eventually in the Maps 
API team, and explained the situation. The advertisement income for a site 
like this is simply nowhere near the Maps API fees; it's on a different 
decade, and there are other costs to cover, too.

Google has some programs for nonprofits, crisis response organisations, 
news media and startups, but I'm not eligible for any of those options, as 
I'm not a registered nonprofit organisation or a growth-mode startup with 
venture capital; I'm a one-man-and-a-cat sized private limited company, 
which doesn't make practical profit from the web site though. It's just 
easier to do the finances and taxes this way, and it helps me do some odd 
consulting jobs sometimes. It's a hobby.

Crisis responder organisations (Red Cross, local ARES teams, etc) use 
aprs.fi from time to time in some form, but they're only eligible for free 
Maps API for up to two months at a time. 

In the end, the good folks at Google Maps figured they still would like to 
support aprs.fi. They configured additional monthly credits for my billing 
account, so that I won't be charged for the time being, and indicated that 
a more permanent process/solution would be figured out later.

As the combination of Google Maps, their reliable tile servers, address 
search and street view is pretty good, I plan to keep using it as the 
primary solution for the time being.

The Leaflet variant does work, and I plan to keep it available, perhaps at 
a more permanent address than the current 'beta'. It's also useful for 
running separate service instances for different purposes than APRS.

  - Hessu, OH7LZB, AF5QT
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