Mapping APIs - Google Maps vs Bing Maps: Part 4 Developer Support & Community

For the fourth blog post in our series comparing the two leading AJAX mapping APIs we are looking at what support is available for each API both officially by the respective companies and unofficially from the developer community. Again we are highlighting significant differences between the APIs using green highlighting.

UPDATES: We have added some extra details on support from feedback we have received

Official Developer Support

Obviously one of the most important aspects to compare when choosing any API is how well it is documented and the quality and availability of examples. There is nothing worse than trying to wade through an API playing “guess what this bit does” so having well written, up to date documentation and examples is key to any developers success.

Google Maps

Google has the basic documentation covered and a few nice things that make it unique like the change log and issues log. One nice difference is that almost all of Google’s official support information collected together on one website. Google also have a few events for developers but don’t appear them more than once a year and there doesn’t appear to be any sort of partner support network. The support however does concern us a little in that you may not get any response to your issues, we do not know how this actually works in reality.

Bing Maps

  • Official documentation and reference, also available as offline help file
    (see http://msdn.microsoft.com/en-us/library/bb429619.aspx)
  • Official example code
    (see http://www.microsoft.com/maps/isdk/ajax/)
  • Case studies available
    (see http://www.microsoft.com/maps/gallery/)
  • Demo of third party examples available
    (see http://www.microsoft.com/maps/gallery/)
  • An official blog updating you with the latest news and releases
    (see http://www.bing.com/community/blogs/maps/)
  • Official imagery release information application (to be completely open it was created by Earthware for Microsoft) see http://bingmapsupdates.cloudapp.net/
  • There are official events 2-3 times a year for developers and partners as well as webcasts around once a month keeping partners up to date
  • There is a well established Bing Maps partner network worldwide which is part of the larger Microsoft partner program. Selected partners are involved in quarterly webcasts with the Bing Maps team to discuss issues and upcoming releases.
  • If you are a commercial user there are dedicated support teams worldwide for answering your issues directly, all support enquiries of any nature will be responded to (confirmed with Microsoft 21/01/10). Bing Maps paid customers have access to email and phone support 8AM-9PM Eastern Time, Mon-Fri (13 hours) – the entire USA business day, coast to coast; for service outages, they have access to 24/7 telephone support with 1-hour callback outside of normal business hours. The European support runs from 8am to 4pm GMT

Bing again has the basic covered well, and an unique imagery release information application :-) but it is missing a regular change log and there is no official issues log. One area Bing Maps stands out in is the events and partner network which is something Google need to work on to help support more than just developers.

Developer Community

Often official support for a product is great, but a true community built around an API can make all the difference.

Google Maps

  • Has a well used forum / group for posting and answering questions. The majority of support is offered by other developers but there are some official announcements by Google employees
    (see http://groups.google.com/group/google-maps-api/)
  • Has a large number of open source projects adding functionality to the core mapping, most notably the Gmaps utility library which is officially recommended by Google over code actual offered by the core Google maps v2 API.
  • There have been at least 10 books published specifically about Google Maps
  • Google maps has a much larger presence in the general web community with a large number of articles, blog posts and tutorials for various aspects and uses of Google maps

Google has a large user community due to its free use popularity with a lot of books to choose from, however be careful as books on APIs become old very fast.

Bing Maps

  • Has a well used forum for posting and answering questions. The vast majority of support is offered by other developers and very occasionally by the Bing Maps team.
  • Has a smaller number of open source projects mostly focusing around asp.net / silverlight / wpf controls or using Bing Maps in interesting ways rather than adding functionality to the core mapping product (with the notable exceptions of vejs and the virtual earth toolkit)
  • Bing maps now has at least one dedicated user group (co-founded by Earthware’s Brian Norman)
  • We are only aware of one soon to be published book about Bing Maps by Nicolas Boonaert which is in French

Bing Maps has a smaller but just as dedicated user community. It’s Earthware’s opinion that there may be less open source projects adding to the core functionality (like Google’s GMaps Utility Library) because Bing Maps has a lot more of these kind of utilities already included in its core mapping API (hence its larger file size).

Conclusions

Both Google Maps and Bing Maps have the basic developer documentation and support sorted, although we find Bing Maps documentation a little easier to read and navigate but that’s only a personal preference.

Google Maps stands out in its development openness by having an issues log and updates log. Bing Maps however really shines when it comes to official partner communication and official events. Also it’s interesting to see Google recommending the use of open source projects rather than using some aspects of the core mapping API.

Finally Google Maps undoubtedly has a larger user community with more articles, books and open source projects than Bing. We can see this difference is starting to balance out a little since Bing Maps rebranded from Virtual Earth and with the new similar free licensing agreement introduced last month.