Google announced today that it’s launching Google Maps Gallery, a site that aims to collect third-party mapping data that the search giant can’t get access to on its own. The new gallery is a way for Google to better improve the usefulness of Maps as competitors like Apple and Bing try to steal customers away.
It’s also a way for governments, companies and organizations to expand the reach of the mapping data they already have. Currently, the gallery is stocked with data from a handful of organizations, including the U.S. Geological Survey, National Geographic and the World Bank, though Google says that any organization can apply to get their maps into the gallery.
The gallery is designed to be a “digital atlas” of different views that would ordinarily be kept by different individual institutions, allowing users to look at a detailed map of Yellowstone and Florida evacuation plans all in the same place. Instead of just displaying a bunch of images, Google overlays the map image and any data included in it on top of an existing map, which means that it’s possible, for example, to get a broader sense for where Lewis and Clark journeyed in comparison to the rest of the United States.
Google has been working to expand the reach of its mapping product beyond its own efforts. Last year, the company made it possible for users to contribute their own Street View images to the product, and it has been working with organizations to add additional street views to museums, airports and other destinations.