USGS, map company team on digital national atlas

The U.S. Geological Survey announced last week that it will team with private industry to develop an electronic National Atlas of the United States, an exhaustive and detailed catalog of maps of the country.

USGS wants to develop CD-ROM, DVD and Internet products, National Atlas managing editor Jay Donnelly said. But selling the products, he said, is an endeavor USGS is "not prepared to do."

Donnelly said private businesses know much more than the government about how to do market research and how to develop products to meet consumer needs and desires. So USGS plans to work with Chicago Map Corp. to market the products.

The first National Atlas, produced in 1970, weighed 12 pounds, had 400 pages and 765 maps, and cost $100. In 1997, Congress gave USGS permission to develop a new National Atlas, and the agency has been working closely with other federal agencies ever since to produce the new map. But the USGS needed a partner from the private sector to develop commercially viable products.

The partnership with Chicago Map will make the National Atlas "a pivotal feature of the 'Gateway to the Earth,' a digital portal being developed that will enable citizens to have easy access to information and data on processes occurring in, on and around the Earth," USGS director Charles Groat said. "Without expert assistance from a partner such as [Chicago Map] with specialized skills in information technologies and marketing, the USGS and its many partners in the federal government would not be able to realize the full promise of the National Atlas."

Donnelly said the embrace of market research and product development marks a turn for USGS. Although the deal between USGS and Chicago Map has not been completely worked out, in general the company will develop, distribute and market the products. In return, USGS probably will get royalties based on sales.

USGS already has an interactive version of the National Atlas on its World Wide Web site, www.usgs.gov.

But the current Web site is only a taste of what is to come, Donnelly said. "What we're doing is exploring the technologies that didn't exist several years ago," he said. "GIS, image processing, desktop mapping, multimedia. There's a much broader acceptance of home computing, and the World Wide Web has made that happen, I think."

The target date for the first launch of a USGS/Chicago Map product is July 4, 2000, Donnelly said.

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