Each decade, the U.S. Census Bureau has the lofty challenge of counting every single person in America—308,745,538 of us as of 2010. Census employees go to great lengths to get the count as precise as possible because this data is used for everything from setting voting districts—from local school boards to Congress—to directing all government spending based on population.

In addition to the widely-known decennial census, the bureau does many other surveys of U.S. households and businesses. As a result, the Census has become a massive data warehouse with terabytes of data about social and economic conditions in the country. This data belongs to the American people, so the goal is to make it as accessible as possible to them. Once upon a time, this data used to be presented in spreadsheets or statistical tables, which were extremely useful to people who were familiar with the Census data, but less accessible to the general public.

Starting with the 2010 Census, the Bureau decided to put the data on a map to make it interactive and easy to use for everyone from a fourth grader working on a research report to a city planner looking for housing trends in their town. The Bureau chose Google Maps as the platform upon which to publish the Census data. The familiar search box and intuitive navigation tools make it easy for visitors to its website to find the information they’re looking for. In the background, Google Maps quickly searches through the large volume of Census data and renders the desired map to a website visitor in milliseconds. The Census data comes alive as visitors zoom, pan and explore the different types of data on the map.

Google Maps enables the Census Bureau to paint a rich portrait of the country, which is available to anyone who visits census.gov. Hear more from the Census Bureau in this video: