In December, Google collaborated with National Geographic to bring more than 500 of the magazine's historic maps online. The effort was created through Google Maps Engine, which lets third-party developer tools build maps on top of the company's location platform to create specialized maps. But National Geographic was only one of Google's partners — and today, the company is beginning to highlight the rest of them with the new Google Maps Gallery.

Nonprofit groups, government organizations and cities are among the groups that have contributed to the project so far. They have posted maps detailing municipal construction projects, old city plans, changing populations, and the path of deforestation. Early partners include the US Geological Survey, the World Bank, Florida Emergency Management, and the city of Edmonton, among others. Not all of them are easy to read: the design quality of the maps varies, as does the level of interaction that each map permits. But for research on local and niche topics, the third-party data will likely prove useful.

Beginning today, the maps will appear in queries on Google and other search engines, as well as on Google Earth. "The intent here is to create an interactive digital atlas," said Jordan Breckenridge, a Google Maps product manager, in an interview with The Verge. With the addition of third-party maps to its arsenal, Google is a step closer to its goal.