What happened to MapQuest?

  • MapQuest is an American web mapping service and was the first route-finding service to be launched online in 1996. Despite the first-mover advantage and the acquisition by market leader AOL, MapQuest was sold off for an undisclosed sum in 2007.
  • MapQuest faced intense competitive pressure from Google and its large and consistent investment in Google Maps. For whatever reason, AOL was not willing to devote the same amount of time and money to developing MapQuest.
  • MapQuest’s list of static driving directions paled in comparison to a smartphone with global positioning technology. Both Google Maps and Apple Maps were also factory installed on smartphones, increasing their uptake.
Founding and Early YearsMapQuest was founded in 1967 as Cartographic Services, a division of R.R. Donnelley & Sons, a printing company. It started as a provider of printed maps and atlases. In 1996, the company launched its website, MapQuest.com, as an online mapping and directions service. This move marked the beginning of its transformation into a digital mapping and navigation platform.
Online Mapping PioneerMapQuest became one of the pioneers in online mapping and route planning. It offered users the ability to find driving directions, view maps, and plan routes online, making it a valuable tool for travelers. During the late 1990s and early 2000s, MapQuest’s website gained widespread popularity, becoming one of the primary sources for online maps and directions.
Acquisition by AOLIn 1999, America Online Inc. (AOL) acquired MapQuest for approximately $1.1 billion, a move aimed at enhancing its online services. Under AOL’s ownership, MapQuest continued to expand its features, offering not only driving directions but also local search capabilities and business listings. This integration into AOL’s network helped MapQuest reach a broader audience.
Competition and ChallengesWhile MapQuest dominated the online mapping space in its early years, it faced increasing competition from other mapping and navigation services, most notably Google Maps. Google’s offering was not only robust but also integrated seamlessly with other Google services. The rise of smartphones and the subsequent popularity of mobile mapping apps further intensified competition. MapQuest struggled to keep pace with these changes and faced challenges in maintaining its market share.
Shift to Mobile and AppsRecognizing the importance of the mobile market, MapQuest launched its mobile app in 2009. The app provided turn-by-turn GPS navigation and real-time traffic updates, aligning with the evolving needs of smartphone users. However, by this time, Google Maps and Apple Maps had already gained significant traction in the mobile mapping space. While MapQuest’s app offered features like gas price comparisons and the ability to save maps for offline use, it faced stiff competition from more established players.
AOL’s Spin-Off and Ownership ChangesIn 2015, AOL was acquired by Verizon Communications Inc. This change in ownership had implications for MapQuest, which continued to operate under the Verizon Media umbrella. Over the years, MapQuest underwent several ownership changes, with its parent companies focusing on broader media and telecommunications strategies. These shifts in ownership led to questions about the future direction and investment in the MapQuest brand.
Decline in PopularityDespite its pioneering role, MapQuest’s popularity gradually waned in the face of fierce competition from Google Maps, Apple Maps, and other mapping apps. Users gravitated toward platforms that offered more features, accuracy, and integration with their devices. While MapQuest continued to provide mapping and directions services, it struggled to regain the market dominance it once enjoyed.


MapQuest is an American web mapping service and was the first such commercial service of its kind.

The history of MapQuest predates mass uptake of the internet by decades, with its origins traced back to the founding of Cartographic Services in 1967.

The company initially generated roadmaps for driving enthusiasts and then reimagined itself for the digital age, launching the first online route-finding service in February 1996.

In 1999, the company went public and was acquired in an all-stock deal by AOL for $1.1 billion the following year.


MapQuest then became an important addition to AOL’s increasingly dominant search and advertising portfolio.

In October 2019, the service was sold by corporate parent Verizon to System1 in a deal not material enough for Verizon to bother filing paperwork.

So what happened to this once pioneering service? Read on to find out.

Google acquisition

The beginning of MapQuest’s decline can be traced back to the Google acquisition of a little-known Australian navigation company called Where 2 Technologies. 

The acquisition would later become the foundation for Google Maps, released in 2005.

Google took the idea of a route-finding service with driving directions and expanded it to include a searchable database of locations.

Google Maps was also more interactive than MapQuest because users could drag their cursor over the map to change locations.

What’s more, Google invested heavily in its map service to consistently evolve and develop the service.

This was in stark contrast to AOL, which made modest, occasional investments in MapQuest with no apparent future strategy.

By 2007, MapQuest usage declined further after Google removed links to competing mapping sites in its search results.

Two years later, Google Maps surpassed MapQuest as the most popular mapping site.

Google (now Alphabet) primarily makes money through advertising. The Google search engine, while free, is monetized with paid advertising. In 2021 Google’s advertising generated over $209 billion (beyond Google Search, this comprises YouTube Ads and the Network Members Sites) compared to $257 billion in net sales. Advertising represented over 81% of net sales, followed by Google Cloud ($19 billion) and Google’s other revenue streams (Google Play, Pixel phones, and YouTube Premium).

Smartphone usage

When smartphones became freely available, the portable technology was a perfect fit for those who needed directions on the go.

This was enabled after companies began rolling out GPS technology on smartphones in 2004.

Once reserved for government and military use, GPS gave citizens access to a wealth of positioning data we now take for granted.

MapQuest, with its static list of driving directions, became inferior almost overnight.

Both Google Maps and then Apple Maps were factory installed on smartphones, whereas MapQuest users had to manually download the app. 

It costs Apple $570 to make an iPhone 13 Pro, and the company sells it at a base price of $999 to $1499.

Furthermore, MapQuest could not match the far more sophisticated offering from Google that warned drivers of construction, road closures, and later traffic congestion. 

AOL’s lackluster interest in joining the GPS revolution then sealed MapQuest’s demise.

Key Highlights

  • MapQuest was the first online route-finding service, launched in 1996, and acquired by AOL for $1.1 billion in 2000.
  • Google’s acquisition of Where 2 Technologies and the subsequent launch of Google Maps in 2005 marked the beginning of MapQuest’s decline.
  • Google Maps offered more interactive features and invested heavily in its map service, while AOL made only modest investments in MapQuest.
  • MapQuest’s usage declined further when Google removed links to competing mapping sites in its search results in 2007.
  • By 2009, Google Maps surpassed MapQuest as the most popular mapping site.
  • The rise of smartphones with GPS technology and factory-installed map apps from Google and Apple made MapQuest’s static driving directions inferior and less appealing to users.
  • MapQuest could not match the more sophisticated features of Google Maps, such as real-time traffic updates and warnings of construction and road closures.
  • AOL’s lack of interest in joining the GPS revolution and investing in MapQuest’s development contributed to its demise.
  • In 2019, MapQuest was sold by Verizon to System1 in a deal of undisclosed value.

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