Google is launching a free tier of Google Maps Engine today, in conjunction with its announcement of Maps Engine Pro, a small business tool. The free tier offers all of the same features but has smaller quotas for data access, in the ‘tens of megabytes’ vs. the terabytes available in the full version.
Google is also launching a new Public Data Program that allows organizations to sign up for a free GME account to create maps and publish them on the web. This could let an organization like, say, the government of Latvia, surface maps of data that it would normally have to have a team build custom tools to present.
The idea is to offer up a public map of new voting districts, transport routes, public works or any other kind of data in a way that can be easily searched via Google or other tools, and that can be distributed widely in a stable fashion. Google happens to be very good at that, and many organizations and government simply aren’t.
Any organization will be able to take advantage of the new program, which does not face the same quota limitations as the free-tier Google Maps Engine product. The only stipulation is that these maps be posted publicly. This serves their needs to have those maps easily searchable, and Google needs to have its mapping products be the most complete picture of the world. There are only so many layers of data that Google can collect itself, and this program taps another whole group of organizations with unique, valuable data to add to the overall product.
Today, Google is also announcing that it will have integration with some very popular GIS software like ESRI and QGIS. It’s also firing up a partnership with Safe Software, one of the biggest spatial visualization companies around. Their data transformation tool FME will get full Google Maps Engine integration.
Maps Engine is used by companies like FedEx, Amtrak and NOAA. Google recently launched a Maps Engine API that was designed to allow companies to import data and layer it on top of Google’s own mapping layers. The Google Maps Engine product has been around for about two years and available commercially for over a year.
The benefits of a free tier are obvious: It offers a taste of the full-on product to attract new enterprise customers. The benefits of a public data tool to help governments and others ship public maps are a bit more subtle. Yes, these organizations get a stable and powerful platform based off of Google’s mapping efforts, but they’re also potentially contributing hundreds of thousands of individual data sets back to Google’s overall mapping platform, making it even more dominant.