Facebook Acquiring Mapillary is More Than You Think

I’ve been working on this blog post all weekend and I’ve rewritten is many times. It comes back to the confusion about why Mapillary and Facebook are now part of the same team. I wrote down about 10 guesses as to why Facebook decided it needed Mapillary and they needed them now but Joe Morrison did such a a good job outlining many of them I’ll share it here. Go read and come back after you’re done, I’ll wait.

Welcome back, now what do I think about this? Hard to say honestly, I can talk myself out of any idea. Get back at Google? I don’t think things are that emotional, sure they probably should own their own mapping solution as sending all their users on to another platform is leaking out their secret sauce and probably a boon for Google. But this isn’t something they haven’t been working on and I can’t see how as amazing Mapillary is, that it moves the needle on this at all. Any work toward a Facebook Maps platform has been done and is probably close to happening. I could see that amazing Mapillary team being an acqui-hire that could help in the long term given their expertise with Open Street Map.

Computer vision, AR/VR and the rest *could* be a reason but remember that Facebook owns Oculus and has done so much in AR that again Mapillary is a rounding error on this. While Oculus has not paid out the way I’m sure Facebook hoped it would, the engineering and development teams there clearly have influenced Facebook. Mapillary, as amazing as those guys are, just don’t have the horsepower that existing AR/VR/CV teams do at Facebook. Again, maybe an acqui-hire.

Place database is of course the holy grail of mapping. The maps are a commodity, but the places are not. But let’s be honest, there are very few companies that have better place data than Facebook. They might have not had street level view data but they sure had more pictures of these venues than almost anyone else. I get that people like street view data but how often do people really say, let me see a street view image from 2011 when they are look at directions. THEY DON’T. Street view is the coffee shop mapping example. It sounds interesting, looks great in demos but in the end not as important as a 3D world built from satellite imagery and lidar. But wait, that’s where Mapillary does come in.

The mostly likely reasons I feel that Facebook bought Mapillary was because of their expertise with Open Street Map and OpenSfM. Facebook is one of the largest users of OSM out there so bringing in a group that is as if not more experienced with OSM helps move the needle with their mapping efforts. The second thing Mapillary brings is their skill making 3D worlds out of imagery. As I said, who has better pictures of venues than Facebook? Start stitching those together and you get an amazing 3D city that is updated quicker than driving stupid cars down streets. Encourage people to take pictures and they update the 3D world for you. That and they they get some of the best OSM ninjas out there all at once.

Now what happens to the crowdsourced data? Will people continue to participate given there are few companies who are more reviled for data management than Facebook? That is what I’m most interested in, Mapillary the product, does it continue? Time will tell.

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