Google today launched the Google Maps Gallery, an extension of the Google Maps Public Data Program it announced last October. The new gallery is meant to showcase maps from the organizations Google is working with, including the likes of National Geographic, the U.S. Geological Survey and the City of Edmonton, and to make them more discoverable.
As Google Maps product manager Jordan Breckenridge told me, the idea behind the Public Data Program is to unlock the maps and geospatial information many organizations already have. Too often, though, that data isn’t easily available to the public and when it is, it’s often in the form of an image file or PDF. That’s not what most users expect from an online map today. “The intent here is to provide an interactive digital atlas around anyone’s mapping content,” Breckenridge said.
The maps Google is currently highlighting in the Gallery range from land use zoning in San Jose and a U.S. Civil War Map from the National Geographic Society to National Parks maps and data about fast food chains in the U.S. The SETI Institute also published a series of planetary maps.
Participants who applied for the program and were selected by Google received free access to the enterprise version of Google Maps Engine. This includes access to connectors that allow them to easily import their public data into Maps Engine. Some of the maps available today use these connectors, while others “just” feature an image of their existing maps as an overlay over Google’s base map. The publishers remain in control of the branding, styling and licensing.
Breckenridge assumes that most people won’t necessarily find these maps on the Gallery but through Google Search. The company is looking at how it can highlight them in search results, but it’s worth noting that they will also be highlighted in Google Earth, both on the desktop and on mobile. In addition, Google is also thinking about how it can take apps its users develop with the free Google Maps Engine Lite service and make them more discoverable. So far, however, it has nothing to announce about this.