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.

Background

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.

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. 

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.

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Gennaro Cuofano

Gennaro is the creator of FourWeekMBA which reached over a million business students, executives, and aspiring entrepreneurs in 2020 alone | He is also Head of Business Development for a high-tech startup, which he helped grow at double-digit rate | Gennaro earned an International MBA with emphasis on Corporate Finance and Business Strategy | Visit The FourWeekMBA BizSchool | Or Get The FourWeekMBA Flagship Book "100+ Business Models"