Mapping APIs – Google vs OpenLayers

The GEMMA team were at Wherecamp EU which took place in Berlin at the end of May. There were some interesting sessions, on topics relevant to building modern “neo-geo” websites such as what will form part of GEMMA.

One big debate within the team we have had is whether to go with Google Maps v3 or OpenLayers, as the “API” that underpins the “slippy map” that people will see, that forms the fundamental part of the website. It was interesting to read that Patrick Weber, of JISCG3, another JISC Geospatial project also being implemented at UCL, has been having a similar debate. As the project moves from the design and prototyping stage to some core coding, the Google vs OpenLayers question is also coming to the fore.

Our decision is complicated by:

  • having a mobile as well as web application stream
  • the need to do some fairly low-level integration of OpenStreetMap and OS OpenData datasets (for one of our streams)
  • making good use of existing CASA technologies, such as MapTube* (built deeply into the Google Maps v2 API which is quite different to v3) and SurveyMapper (on Google Maps v3) as well as my own CensusProfiler, EducationProfiler and Bike Share Map work (all three on OpenLayers)
  • the relatively short timeframe and team-size for this multi-faceted project, meaning that pragmatic choices on speed of development are important
  • an increased focus on using fully open technologies for our core work as an academic research group
  • …and one team member having experience mainly with the Google Maps v2/v3 API and one member having experience mainly with OpenLayers.

At the moment we are focusing on Google Maps for mobile development, and a mix of the two for “desktop” web applications. However OpenLayers 2.11, currently in Release Candidate phase and so soon to be released, has some promising developments, particularly in the field of mobile support. We’ll be designing our work as generically as possible, to allow maximum flexibility as to using the underlying API.

*MapTube also uses OpenLayers as an alternative, although this is fairly well hidden.



  1. […] found the comparison of mapping options a compelling topic so have posted their own experience of selecting between different mapping APIs. Incidentally GEMMA will be showing off more functionality at State of the Map EU in Vienna in […]

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