MapPoint XML Web service drives Zipcar.com
Boston is a walkable city with more than adequate public transportation. It is also a difficult place to keep or even park a car. So it's not surprising that car ownership is not a priority for many of the students at the famous universities -- Harvard, MIT, Boston University and others -- in the Boston area and for older knowledge workers, as well.
However, there are times when it is helpful to have the use of a car. For example, it's not easy to take a sick cat to the vet on a train, bus or even in a cab. Traditional rental agencies will provide a car for a day, but why pay for a 24-hour rental when the errand you need it for only takes 45 minutes?
Zipcar Inc. provides Boston-area residents with an alternative, self-service car rental by the hour. Launched in mid-2000, the innovative start-up company -- based in Cambridge, Mass. -- offers people over the age of 21 with a valid driver's license and a clean driving record a Zipcard for reserving and renting cars by the hour. Zipcar also offers service in the New York City/New Jersey area, Washington, D.C., and Chapel Hill, N.C.
At the heart of the service is a Web application where Zipcard holders enter the address where they are and get a map showing the nearest location of Zipcars, ranging from a Ford Focus to a BMW.
When the company first built the Zipcar.com site in 2000, developers used map programs that were available for free on the Web, explained Roy Russell, vice president of technology for Zipcar. But free mapware had its "downside," he recalls. Chief among the downsides was that map programs could not be seamlessly integrated into the Zipcar Web site. When the user clicked on the map, they went to the site of the map vendor and it was difficult to redirect them back to Zipcar.com.
"It was good enough, but not great," Russell told XML Report. "It was not what you wanted functionally."
In 2003, the company decided to redo its Web site and Russell looked for a map application that would integrate better.
Zipcar is not a Microsoft shop, he explained. Its servers run Linux with open-source middleware. Still, Russell said his search for map software led him to select MapPoint, the Microsoft XML Web service, which companies like his pay for based on usage.
"We're not using .NET, but that didn't matter," he said. "What attracted us was the SOAP interface that is cross-platform." With the SOAP interface, integrating MapPoint into the Zipcar site was "no problem," he added.
To the end user, the MapPoint service that pinpoints where a car is available in their neighborhood appears to be just another part of Zipcar.com.
Microsoft is announcing the latest version of the MapPoint Web service this month.
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Rich Seeley is Web Editor for Campus Technology.