Maps.me's Yury Melnichek bears a strong resemblance to Richard Hendricks, the protagonist on HBO's hit show "Silicon Valley." Both used to work for tech giants, left to found startups and along the way came up with killer digital compression technologies. And just as with Hendricks, the company Melnichek founded is now giving his old employer a run for its money.
Melnichek spent the late 2000s working at Google, where he focused on improving the company’s results on local searches, but his frustration with his supervisors’ unwillingness to address issues he noticed motivated him to leave. Months later, he co-founded Maps.me.
Maps.me now goes head to head against Google Maps and is putting up quite the fight. It has grown from a mere 40,000 users around the time of its launch in 2010 to more than 25 million now. The company was acquired by Mail.Ru for an undisclosed amount in 2014, and Melnichek is now in charge of the Russian tech outfit's mapping efforts.
Most recently, Maps.me announced its decision to make its app’s source code available to the public, allowing anybody to use its code, even for commercial purposes. It’s a model similar to the one Google uses with its Chrome Web browser, and it’s one that Melnichek believes will ultimately benefit his company in the long run.
Melnichek spoke with International Business Times about how Maps.me differs from Google Maps, how American consumers can benefit from using it, why compression technology is so important and how he feels about being compared to a character from a TV show.
International Business Times: What makes Maps.me different from other top map apps?
Yury Melnichek: We take OpenStreetMap data, which is something like Wikipedia but for maps. OpenStreetMap has editors who as their hobby create maps of the world, and we add the data to a beautiful application for mobile phones. The app also works without an Internet connection, which is awesome when you need a map in a place you’ve never been before.
IBT: Other apps like Google Maps let users save maps offline. So what makes Maps.me unique?
Melnichek: Whatever the app can do when it’s connected to the Internet, such as navigation and store details, it can also do offline, which is a tremendous benefit to our users when they save a map.
We’ve made some compression technology to actually let you install a whole country on your mobile phone, and because of that, the map loads very fast. It takes more time to download the data from the Internet than it does to just grab data from the phone.
IBT: Why did you guys decide to make Maps.me open source? Aren’t you afraid someone will build a clone that can beat you?
Melnichek: We are releasing the source code with the purpose that others will take it and use it for their mapping needs together with OpenStreetMap data. We hope that will increase the adoption of OpenStreetMap and boost that ecosystem.
As for rivals copying what we do by using our code, that would take some time to do. And we plan on continuing to develop Maps.me and working very hard, so we don’t think a rival would be as good as we are.
IBT: Doesn’t saving an entire country or state require a lot of storage space?
Melnichek: Our compression technology allows you to install the whole map and do it for several hundred megabytes, depending on the state. It's about the size of a video clip or about the same amount of space as a modern smartphone game.
IBT: All this compression talk reminds of me of the character Richard Hendricks from “Silicon Valley.” On the show he worked for Hooli, the fictional equivalent of Google. Do you get that comparison often?
Melnichek: Yes, I worked at Google Maps, but technically I didn’t work on the map itself. I worked on the local places, so that's what you see when you search for local places like “Pizza New York” in your Web browser or in Google Maps. So it’s not quite exactly what we are doing at Maps.me.
As for the show -- to be honest, I haven’t actually watched the “Silicon Valley” series, but I guess that’s precisely the reason why they say all the characters and any similarities are incidental and not made on purpose.
IBT: On that show, compression technology is hailed as being critical to the future of tech and data storage. Is it really that important?
Melnichek: Sometimes compression technology just make things smaller, but other times, it makes something that was previously impossible possible -- from zero to existing. As an example, MP3s made it possible to actually store music, entire albums, on phones and devices, which wasn’t possible before. That’s the breakthrough that is happening with our app. We make it possible to store a whole map in full detail on a mobile phone, and it works really fast and runs really smooth.
IBT: What kind of user did you have in mind when you decided to approach maps with compression technology?
Melnichek: Our first core audience were people who travel a lot. People who go to remote areas, people going backpacking through different countries -- that kind of frequent traveler. Then we started adding more and more features to the app and started making the data smaller and faster, and it became popular on a much wider scale. So now another one of our focus areas are people who don’t have any other accessible maps except for Maps.me, such as users in developing countries.
IBT: It sounds like this could be a good app for American users with data limits. Is that correct?
Melnichek: Yes, that’s correct. That’s one particular kind of user. Another are people who go traveling around the country because not all areas of the U.S. get cellular coverage. It varies greatly carrier to carrier, but none of the carriers cover the whole area of the U.S. So if you’re traveling even within the U.S., you might run into situations where there is no Internet connection and no way to create a road back to your home with Google Maps, but with Maps.me we still have you covered.