Toshl Finance Blog

Between Scylla and Charybdis: Why We’re Switching the Locations Feature Back to Foursquare

We’re switching the expense locations provider to Foursquare! Back to Foursquare, as it was before April. Don’t let the exclamation mark of the first sentence fool you, it is not one of excitement, rather of frustrated dread.

When making Toshl v2 a few years ago, we thought it would be a cool feature to add the location of the expense or income. Cooler still, with the help of a 3rd party service, we could even show and save the name and info of the exact venue, not just the coordinates.

For this to happen, we chose Foursquare. We used their apps, knew they had a pretty good database of crowdsourced venues and at the time, offered the venues API for free, even for commercial use. Through the years of use and user feedback, we discovered that the coverage could be somewhat patchy in certain countries, but worked well overall. Hell, it was free, save for the attribution and data about which places were the most frequented.

Then earlier this year, a Foursquare representative sent us an email, saying that they’ve changed the terms and now want to charge us the 750 $ (US) per month for location API access. We’re not against paying in principle, they do provide a useful service, but a bait and switch with going from 0 to 750 $ a month was a bit harsh. Especially for a feature that doesn’t represent the core of our service, but is rather a nice add-on for most people.

Therefore we resisted and checked out other providers. Google Places API was an obvious choice. While the quality of location data also varied a bit, the database of venues was very large and we knew Google was definitively committed to keep improving it substantially in the future.

So we added the switch of location providers on our to-do list, updated the backend systems, optimised how the results were fetched and displayed, changed the location provider logos in the apps and launched the new location system with Google’s results¬†on 18th of April 2018.

While Google’s Places API was not free in theory, there was a cap beyond which they started charging. Essentially this made the service free for us, as we didn’t surpass those rather generous caps.

Then on May 3rd, the bomb hit. Google announced they were raising their API prices. By A LOT. You can imagine how happy we were.

We weren’t the only ones:

Insane, shocking, outrageous: Developers react to changes in Google Maps API

There was a 3-month transition period after June 3rd during which they offered some transitional credits to existing customers, but after this, our monthly bill would go from 0 to about 3000 $. Wonderful.

We had a few calls with Google representatives to see if something could be worked out, or if we had misunderstood something, but all we got was a “that’s unfortunate” and a $300 credit for other Google Cloud services.

We obviously looked at other location data providers like HERE, TomTom, Mapbox and others, but very few offer worldwide coverage and even when they do, it can be pretty patchy and imprecise.

Perhaps that’s also because during the last decade Google offered these location services below cost, thus stifling stronger competition that might have otherwise developed.

 

So long story short, the locations of your expenses and incomes in Toshl apps will again be provided by Foursquare. We apologise for any inconvenience that might have caused, as the locations on both platforms don’t always match completely. As you can probably tell from above, our choices were somewhat limited. We hope the location function will work well, consistently and hopefully without further pricing shocks in the future.

 

 

Posted in Announcements, Development