Google will shut down Fusion Tables

After more than a decade in service, Google's easy-to-use cloud visualization service is being shuttered.

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Google is shutting down its Fusion Tables cloud service, a Google Drive option that offered an easy way to create online visualizations, especially maps. Google announced today that the service will end on Dec. 3, 2019, and "maps using the Fusion Tables Layer in the Maps JavaScript API v3.37 will start to see errors in August 2019." 

The news highlights the risks of relying on "free" cloud services from for-profit private companies.

"Mapserver, Geoserver, PostGIS, GEOS, and all the other open source software you were using 9 years ago when Google Fusion Tables was the new hotness are still available [and] will not be shut down next year," taunted open-source advocate Paul Ramsey on Twitter.

Deemed "experimental" for more than a decade, Fusion Tables nevertheless was relied on by its users, including data journalists, some of whom felt more confident about the longevity of the tool after seeing Google employees tout the service at conferences.

In its shutdown notice, Google said it has developed several new tools over the years that might fit Fusion Tables users' needs. And the company said it has also created "internal tools that can create powerful map visualizations" – some of which will likely be made publicly available in the future.

That, however, doesn't help users now.

Fusion Tables' integration with Google Sheets along with some built-in geocoding allowed a fairly seamless experience for creating maps from spreadsheet data, including information from Excel that was uploaded to Sheets. That helped make it popular among teams without coding expertise, or those first starting to experiment with data work beyond spreadsheets.

"It was a great intro for journalists to figure out joining and mapping data," tweeted Andrew Ba Tran, an investigative data reporter at The Washington Post.

Despite its ease of use, some tech-savvy users built fairly sophisticated applications on top of the Fusion Tables platform, such as the Searchable Map Template from DataMade's Derek Eder. Among those who used that technology: New York City's Department of Consumer Affairs (to develop a map of free tax preparation sites) and The Hollywood Reporter (to map vaccination rates).

I also used it to work with Dr. Sam Wang at the Princeton Election Consortium to develop a tool that allowed people to search for nearby competitive Congressional districts if they wanted to get involved in campaigns that might help sway the balance of power in Washington. 

"While this is a bummer, it is not surprising considering the big changes Google made this year in charging for their Maps and Places APIs. Fusion Tables wasn't included on that list, so its days were numbered," Eder wrote in a post to a Google Group devoted to his Fusion Table map template. 

Tweeted John Ness of SB Nation: "Archives relying on Fusion Tables exist in approximately [does math face] every local digital newsroom." It's as yet unclear how – or whether – all that work will be saved and archived.

Copyright © 2018 IDG Communications, Inc.

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