MapQuest Developer Blog

Archives for Jen Bosier

Technical Writer | Developer Service

  • MapQuest University: Geocoding Everywhere

    The mapping industry is full of buzzwords. Each month, MapQuest University will help explore these terms and how you can improve your user experience through better understanding. The buzzword for this month is "geocoding." What is geocoding? What is the future of geocoding? We sat down with Seth Shaffer, Senior Software Engineer on our Geocoding team, and asked him to give us the rundown on geocoding.

    What is geocoding?

    Geocoding is the process of converting a given address (1060 W. Addison St., Chicago, IL 60613) into latitude/longitude pairs (41.947239, -87.655636). These geographical coordinates can then be used to place a marker on a map, to indicate location. Geocoding is the backbone of any and all mapping applications. mapquest university geocoding

    You rely on geocoding every time you get directions to and from a store, or friend's house. MapQuest relies on geocoding to ensure our users know, with a great degree of accuracy, how many more blocks they need to drive or walk to get to that concert venue, or how many miles it is from Denver to Chicago. You can also receive speed limit information and whether or not you're approaching a toll road. Good stuff, all around.

    MapQuest's Reverse Geocoding API also provides functionality to any number of businesses. Reverse geocoding can be used to track the delivery of anything from pizza to online merchandise. It's also an integral part of asset tracking, allowing companies to keep an eye on their trucks near and far.

    But what does the future hold for geocoding?

    Where we're going, we don't need roads

    Drones, and more importantly, drone delivery is taking off in a big way. Geocoding will be essential to helping these flying deliverers find their delivery location, since they won't be relying on mailboxes or house numbers. Drones don't have to rely on the traditional roads that we frequent, which means mapping is about to enter a whole new dimension.

    Imaginary roads near and far

    Have you ever wondered, to the exact mile, how far Helm's Deep was from The Shire? Or how long the Kingsroad was, starting at Winterfell and ending at King's Landing? One of the fun applications of geocoding is creating highly detailed maps of fictitious places. Just because we're never going to step foot in Waterdeep doesn't mean we can't have an interactive map showing us where it is in relation to Baldur's Gate. Plot routes, plan road trips, for places near and far. Because awesome.

    Augmenting our reality

    Recently, an app made quite the pop culture buzz, allowing users to catch fictitious monsters in our neighborhoods and daily commutes. You might have heard of it. Geocoding is a central functionality with all augmented reality applications. By harnessing geocoding, creative applications can continue to find ways to brighten our everyday lives, through our mobile devices.

  • Five Things Users Should Know About MapQuest's Directions API

    No one at MapQuest is more passionate about our APIs than our fantastic Product Managers. They know their products inside and out, backward and forward; in fact, you might call them a little evangelical. Each month, we sit down with one of our PMs to discuss what they wish our users knew about our APIs. This month, we sat down with our Product team and asked what they wish users knew about our Directions API.

    Avoid problematic roads

    Construction season is everyone's least favorite season -- lane closures, detours, it's all just the worst. MapQuest's directions API allows you to specify -- down to the specific road -- places to avoid when determining a route. Avoid that rush hour snarl on the road that's under heavy construction, avoid crossing bridges, avoid toll roads; Directions API allows you to get down in the weeds and customize your route.

    Customize your narrative

    Route narratives are a given. When we plot from point A to point B, we expect to see helpful phrases such as "Turn left on Arapahoe Road." Directions API allows you to customize that narrative to make something unique. Utilize the HTML feature to style the narrative with a custom CSS. Create an enhanced format that lets users know "If you see the movie theater, you've gone too far." Make your narrative stand out, while still being as clear and concise as expected.

    Wherever "local" takes you

    Did you know our narrative has language support? It does! With support for any ISO 639 language, your application can deliver a narrative that's spot-on in English, French, Spanish, German, and more.

    Control your points

    Every January, the National Western Stock Show takes over downtown Denver. Several main thoroughfares are blocked off so that prize-winning cattle, horses and sheep can parade through the town. It's delightful, but it also means that traffic is an absolute nightmare in the downtown area. Why are we telling you this? Because with Directions API, you can utilize Control Points, which allow you to submit a lat/lng pair for an area and push your route away from (or toward) that specific area. This means in January you could set your control point to downtown Denver, and tell the application to push any and all routes away from that point. Yes, you miss out seeing the prize-winning alpaca trotting through the Financial District, but you also get to your destination faster and more efficiently. Sorry, llama.

    Calculate your gas usage

    Do you have drivers? You probably know that Directions API is great for mileage reimbursement, but did you know it can help you calculate your fuel usage, too? Set your vehicle's MPG, and your drivers' driving style (cautious, normal or aggressive) and know, before they set out on a cross-state route, how much gas they can expect to use. That's pretty handy.

    All that's missing is you

    For more information, check out our our Directions API documentation.
  • MapQuest's Quality Codes in Action

    We spend a lot of time talking about our geocoding API and our quality codes. We've mentioned they can help you save time and money, but did you know they can also help you make better business decisions? With MapQuest, rest assured your drivers get to and from a location with ease, all through the power of quality codes.

    Let's say you own a restaurant or a store that delivers orders or merchandise to your customers. Your customers might be scattered throughout the city, from well-known streets and avenues to new suburban neighborhoods. Few things are worse for a delivery business than lost time because a delivery driver can't locate an address. MapQuest's quality codes ensure your drivers leave the store knowing they won't get lost or end up turning down side streets in the hopes of finding a building. You determine the level of quality code you're comfortable with, knowing the API will provide you with the information needed to make a better business decision.

    Let's assume that you will only deliver to anything with A's or B's in the quality code result. In practice, the customer enters their address, which makes a call to the API. The API returns a quality code and your system can determine, based off the quality code, whether or not the address is one to which you will deliver. MapQuest Quality Codes

    Example: The customer enters 1060 W. Addison St., Chicago, IL 60613, which returns a L1AAA quality code. The API decides that's an acceptable quality code and the customer is able to process their order for delivery. Your delivery driver finds the location without any problem, and everyone goes home happy.

    On the other hand, maybe a customer enters their address as 2345 Martin, Dallas, TX 78215 (instead of 2345 Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd, Dallas, TX 75215), which returns a L1CAC. You've told the system that C's are undesirable, and the user is prompted to choose the correct address, or told they must pick up their product at the nearest store. No more calling customers to break the bad news, no more trying to decipher whether the customer fat-fingered the zip code, no more wondering if they meant to enter Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd -- that is all in the past.

    The best part is that it’s up to you and your team to determine which quality codes are and are not acceptable. This cuts down on lost time for drivers, and wait time for customers. Better systems, better experience, all with quality codes.

    Want to learn more about quality codes? For a detailed breakdown of our quality codes, please see this blog post. Visit our Geocoding documentation to learn how you can get started with MapQuest's Geocoding API.

  • Licensed Data vs. Open Data: Which is Better?

    Good data is the backbone of any location-based service or application. When building your application, you may find yourself waffling between licensed data versus open data. Your biggest question is probably “which one is right for my application?” The answer depends on your user experience.

    Data defined

    Licensed Data is, as the name implies, data compiled from a number of our commercial data providers. This data is updated quarterly and verified by our vendors, ensuring accuracy and reliability. Open data, provided primarily by the OpenStreetMap (OSM) community, is crowdsourced data compiled by a global community of map fanatics. Just how dedicated is the OSM community to having good data? During their punfully titled Mappy Hours, users gather to scope out streets, trails/walking paths/biking paths, places of interest (POIs), and landmarks.

    Defining your data needs

    Do you need POI data and locations marked everywhere from New York City, to Dinosaur, Colorado? If your business takes you to every corner of the country, licensed data provides a more reliably thorough scope. Also, with regular, quarterly updates, you can be sure that all places great and small are reviewed, verified and updated with a regular cadence. OSM has strong data in urban areas, especially in large cities like New York, Los Angeles, Chicago, etc, and it’s constantly being updated. If you want your users to be able to contribute updates and edits that can be shared with the greater OSM community, open is for you.

    Defining your business

    Are you interested in our Extended Rights Geocoding (ERG) to store your geocodes in a database as well as a map? Currently, ERG is only available to licensed data customers. For more information about ERG, click here.

    The Small Print

    There are some rules involved with the use of Open data. Namely, due legal requirements from both our licensed data partners and Open Source Initiative, you cannot cross the open and licensed streams. Whichever data stream you choose, that is the one to which you are committed. For more information about open data, please see our Open APIs documentation.
  • MapQuest University: What is a Geofence?

    The mapping industry is full of buzzwords. Each month, MapQuest University will help explore these terms and how you can improve your user experience through better understanding. The buzzword for this month is "geofence." What is a geofence? How can you use a geofence? We sat down with Arthur May, Product Manager on our Location Intelligence team, and asked him to give us the rundown on geofencing.

    What is a geofence?

    Quite simply, it’s a virtually-defined area and a device’s movement relative to that area. Geofences are typically situated around a defined point. For example, let’s say you set up a 700-foot geofence around your house. Geofencing allows you to track when a person or device is approaching within 700' of your house, or when a person or device is leaving that defined space. In addition to tracking and alerting, geofencing can also tell you the time associated with these actions; it takes two minutes to get 700’ away from your house.


    What can you do with it?

    You’re probably thinking “That’s all well and good, but what can I do with it,” right? We’re glad you asked. The application possibilities for a geofence are nigh limitless. Maybe you own a small business, Pete’s World of Fish. As a small business owner, you’re probably in a constant state of luring in new customers. Geofencing allows you to alert a user, from an app, within a defined block-radius of your location. Go ahead, invite them in, offer a coupon, and make new friends and customers. Maybe you work on a large construction site and need some digital help herding all of the cats, making sure everyone on the job is where they’re supposed to be. Set up a geofence around the site and receive a ping when workers enter and leave the geofence so that you know, for certain, when your ducks are in a row. Or maybe you want a device that you can put in your suitcase, thus creating a geofence around the suitcase. Receive peace of mind that your luggage is following you to and from your destination. Or know, in advance, if your luggage hasn’t left your origin spot, and know when to start panicking. (This is one of those fears, ya know?)

    What is MapQuest Working On?

    Right now, MapQuest is exploring ways in which we can empower businesses to leverage geofences to provide a balance between client-side and server-side relations. That’s fancy talk for saying that we want businesses -- of any size -- to make better decisions and improve their user relationship, all through the power of geofencing. The other morning, Arthur stumbled upon a fantastic use case. While jogging at 6 a.m., he approached a drug store chain, and he received an alert suggesting he visit the store and use his rewards card. Of course, the drug store isn’t open at 6am, so that’s a pretty silly alert, isn’t it? What if, instead, the drug store chain could set a geofence that not only included a proximity alert -- alerting customers who are within two or three blocks of the store -- but also included open/close hours? That way, you wouldn’t get an alert at 6 a.m., but you might get one at 9 a.m., on the same trail, thus actively encouraging you to visit the store. Isn’t that a better business-owner and customer relationship? That is the power of geofencing, and MapQuest’s Location Intelligence team.