What a Places API is (and the Best Alternative for POI Data)

Many mobile and web applications need to help users find locations of – and information about – points of interest. Where are stores of a particular chain, or that carry a particular brand of product? What type of cuisine is available at nearby restaurants? How far is it to the nearest gas station or EV charging spot?

The problem is that most of the developers of these apps don’t have their own database containing this information, so they have to source it from somewhere.

Often, this “somewhere” is a Places API. So what exactly is this? And how does it work? We’re going to answer those questions, and in doing so, demonstrate how other options – like SafeGraph’s Places data – may be a better fit for your organization. Here, you’ll learn:

  • What is a Places API?
  • What types of data requests are available with a Places API?
  • How a Places API works
  • Places API vs. SafeGraph Places data: a comparison

We’ll start with the basics of what a Places API is, and list some common POI providers on the market.

What is a Places API?

A Places API is a service that fetches information about points of interest in response to HTTP requests. It is usually used by mobile or web mapping applications to help people find nearby facilities and relevant information about them, such as operating hours and contact details.

A Places API is often used by application developers when they require some part of their app to provide information about places, such as a store locator or accommodations booking widget. The API allows the app to call this information from another company’s pre-existing database, rather than the developer having to collect, store, and manage this information themselves.

Common Places APIs you may have heard of

  • Google Places API: A subservice of Google Maps that helps applications locate and provide details about establishments, points of interest, and other geographic locations.
  • Foursquare Places API: Known for its crowdsourced place information apps, Foursquare has an API that lets you tap into facts about places, as well as traveler tips and opinions regarding places.
  • HERE Geocoding & Search API: An API that allows for searching for places and place information by address, name, category, ID, and even distance from coordinates.
  • Geoapify Places API: This API offers some unique ways to search for places, such as within a transit time or other type of isochrone, or by the amenities available at a place.
  • TomTom Search API: Made by a pioneering consumer GPS company, TomTom’s Search API allows for searches filtered by geometries and categories, geocoding, autocomplete, and even the ability to look for electric vehicle charging stations.
  • Precisely Places API: An API that allows for searching for places by name, address, coordinates, administrative area, category, or isochrones, as well as viewing place details or counting the number of POIs in an area.

What types of data requests are available with a Places API?

  • Place Search: Displays a list of places within a certain proximity of a user’s location, and/or related to user-input search terms and other search criteria.
  • Place Details: Retrieves available attributes describing a place. These could include an address, business status, phone number, operating hours, photos, ratings, and reviews.
  • Place Photos: Allows for resizing a photo referenced by a Place Search or Place Details request in order to properly display it in an application.
  • Place Autocomplete: Predicts the name or address of a place as the user types it, and offers to fill it in. Also displays an on-the-fly list of places the user may be searching for.
  • Query Autocomplete: Predicts a categorical search (not related to a specific place) as the user types it, and offers to fill it in. Also displays an on-the-fly list of possible search queries that may be relevant to the user’s search terms.
  • Geocode: Takes an address and shows the precise geographic coordinates the address refers to.
  • Reverse Geocode: Takes a set of geographic coordinates and returns the address of the point of interest.
  • Address Verification: Checks if a place has a valid mailing address so that packages can be delivered to it.
  • Phone Verification: Checks if a place has a registered phone number, helping to streamline communications and avoid fraud.
  • Email Verification: Checks if a place has a valid email address registered to it for accurate email delivery and protection of potentially sensitive data.
  • Streets: Finds information about the street(s) nearest to the point of interest, including the nearest intersection and the posted speed limit on that street (or streets).
  • Property Information: Provides detailed information on a specific building, including its available amenities or sale-related data.

How a Places API works

Think of a Places API as a library that a mobile or web application can quickly consult for information about points of interest when a user asks about them. A user can ask questions like:

  • What notable places are near me?
  • What can I find at places nearby?
  • Are there places of a specific type nearby?
  • Where can I find a specific place I’m looking for?
  • Can I find a specific place even if I don’t know its full name or address?

Here’s a rough outline of how the Places API works:

  1. The user of a mobile or web application takes an action that would require information about a point of interest, such as touching a location symbol on a map.
  2. The application translates this action into HTTPS format and sends it as a request to a Places API, along with an API key to let the Places API know that the request is valid.
  3. The Places API uses the instructions in the request to search for the relevant information in its database. This could be a common query string, or a specific place or set of places denoted by unique place IDs.
  4. The Places API returns a JSON or XML response that contains the information the request asked for.
  5. This information is displayed to the user on the application.

SafeGraph’s Places data skips most of this process. It doesn’t need to be called for by a HTTPS request, and it doesn’t need an API key to access. The data can be delivered to your organization through a CSV file, or on common GIS or data management platforms like Esri, CARTO, Amazon Web Services, Snowflake, and Databricks Delta Sharing. Once it’s there, you can search through it or manipulate it pretty much any way you want.

Places API vs. SafeGraph Places data: a comparison

While a Places API is a convenient way to fetch point of interest information for mobile and web applications, it’s not without its drawbacks. One major disadvantage is that it requires an application to repeatedly make requests to the API whenever it needs the relevant information. And there are fees associated with most of these requests. While these fees are typically small (usually about 3 cents per request at most), if an app is popular and issues a lot of requests from many different users, these fees can add up to an expensive amount fairly quickly.

Another downside of this setup is that the API developer retains the majority of the control over the data. The terms of use for many Places APIs have restrictions on the ability of app developers to keep any of the data they request from the API. Some may have even further restrictions on the kinds of applications that can use the data, including derivative works. You can see an example for yourself in the Google Maps Platform Terms of Service.

With SafeGraph Places, you can get a bulk CSV download of points of interest data – including detailed attributes about each place, not just the locations themselves – without having to call the data piece-by-piece from an API. This has two advantages in this context. First, it means we can work with your organization to decide on one flat price for the data that gets you better value for money. So there’s no need to be nickel-and-dimed for the data based on how often you use it.

The other advantage is that your organization gets to keep the data it buys and has greater creative control over it. Want to create a map of local EV charging stations? Model the landscape of competing or complementary businesses near your company’s stores? Explore how many essential facilities are accessible to residential areas in a city? Some Places API developers don’t allow their data to be used for these kinds of applications. But you can use SafeGraph Places data for all of these things and more.

Places APIs are repositories from which applications can get locations of – and information on – various points of interest. But with how they’re built, it doesn’t always give the most relevant information for certain use cases. And with how they operate, their usage is often restricted, and they can rack up numerous transactions just to access the data – which can cost your organization a small fortune in fees.

In contrast, SafeGraph’s Places data is available for a flat negotiated price depending on what specific data your organization needs. It can be delivered to common GIS or data platforms, or given to your business as a CSV file – it’s all there right from the start, without having to call an API every time. And once your organization has the data, it’s free to put that data to work for several more use cases than many Places APIs allow.

Get in touch with us today to get a demo of what our Places dataset can do for your organization.


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