Apr 24, 2011

Fifteen Years Behind Us…and an Open Road Ahead

Fifteen years ago, a room full of geologists, physicists, software engineers and cartographers in Lancaster, Penn., unplugged the office coffee machine and inserted the cord to a server powering a new website.  The goal was to launch the first-ever, consumer-focused, interactive mapping site on the Internet:  MapQuest.com.

MapQuest - Celebrating 15 yearsTo be honest, MapQuest’s roots stemmed much deeper.  For 40 years, we were a cartography company that created free maps handed out to gas station patrons.  From 1994-1996, we were a geospatial software organization, and  made the move to Denver – a hotbed for this industry.  So, I suppose we’ve always been in the business of getting people where they need to go.

But MapQuest had bigger dreams.  The Internet was changing not just the map, but the content within it.  MapQuest saw the opportunity to use the map as life’s canvas for the 21st Century.  A USA Today article on “How the Internet Changed the World,” stated, “MapQuest started saving marriages in 1996 by offering turn-by-turn directions.”  But with more than 40 million unique visitors coming to our site each month and 4 million inquiries every day, there are a lot more reasons our users log on than getting from point A to B.

We all recognize the physiological effect we experience when lost.  That, coupled with the stress of travel, and you’ve got the potential for an absolute roadside meltdown.  MapQuest aims to take the anxiety out of getting there.  Never mind the lack of baggage fees, MapQuest’s tools and enhancements make it easy to decide where to go, how to get there and what to do along the way.

For the first 10 years, we maintained an online presence and established ourselves as a trusted guide for maps and directions.  By 2007, the tech bubble was behind us, the economy was strong and people were traveling again.  MapQuest began offering more than just map graphics; we re-introduced aerial imagery and added a gas price locator and fuel calculator to serve both the cost- and environmentally conscious.  Soon thereafter we added traffic alerts and incidents, updating them every five minutes.  Most importantly, we started moving from just a maps and directions utility to a digital guide – providing information that helped individuals make better decisions for their commute or travel.  And change was again taking hold.

Just as the Internet forever changed consumer behavior, so too is mobile revolutionizing the way we consume information and explore our world.  There are 6.7 billion people in the world, and 1.3 billion are using their phones to access the Internet.  For many, this is the only way they connect:  Twenty-five percent of Americans report their mobile device as their primary means for surfing the Web (in comparison Egypt at 70 percent).  And access isn’t the only change afoot.  With the economy still rebounding, gas prices increasing and air travel…less than convenient…more and more folks are using tried and true transportation options that help them feel more in control.  Americans will take one billion trips this year and 850 million of those will be taken by auto.  MapQuest understands the “new norm” means value, last-minute decisions and flexibility along the way.  Our free, voice-guided, turn-by-turn smart phone applications make great sense not just for the road trip-planner, but for the errand-runner, urban commuter or staycationer.

Our eyes set on the future, MapQuest will continue to provide accurate maps and directions with a greater focus on search and discovery.  To our customers, we want to be the sum of local and far-flung adventures, even the ones you didn’t see coming.  The element of where is in everything we do.  It’s how we describe where we live and where we want to go.  It’s how we reference new restaurants, how we determine if we can make it on time, how we tap into social connections, and how we consume and understand the news.  Where has a foundational relevance, but sometimes we don’t know what “where” we need.  MapQuest has begun ingesting content into our site that will engage users as they determine where they want to go, if they should walk, bike, drive or taking public transit, and what stops interest them on their way there.

We’ve learned and grown along the way, but we have you to thank for our internal roadmap.  Thank you to the billions of people who have visited our site.  You have provided inspiration, motivation and a true purpose for the company.  You have also given us invaluable feedback over 15 years that helps us serve the greater good in better and richer ways.  We want to reward your loyalty with the energy, speed and innovation you deserve.

There is also a long legacy of talented and passionate employees that have worked hard to create the best experience for you.  To them, I tip my hat.  Last year we rebuilt and rebranded the site to set the stage for the future.  We’re rolling up our sleeves and digging in, going on an adventure for the next 15 years.  We hope you will join us.