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Google invites 360-degree panorama photographers to contribute to Maps

One of the coolest features in Android 4.2 Jelly Bean is the ability to snap photos in every direction, which come together into a 360-degree panorama image known as a photo sphere.

Now you can share them with the world, instead of keeping them hidden away on your phone or Google+ account. Google this week launched a new community site called Views that lets you publicly contribute photo spheres to Google Maps.

"When you're on your next adventure, don't forget your camera and your Android phone to create and share some photo spheres of places that inspire you... we can't wait to see them!" Google Maps and Photo Sphere product manager Evan Rapoport wrote in a blog post.

Photo spheres can be created with the camera in Android 4.2 Jelly Bean or higher, including most Nexus devices and the new Nexus 7 tablet. You can also share panoramas on the Views site created with a DSLR camera.

To upload a 360-degree photo sphere, you'll need to sign into the Views site with your Google+ profile and click the camera button at the top right of the page. From there, you'll be able to import existing photo spheres from your Google+ photos. You can also upload photo spheres from the gallery on your Android phone by tapping "Share" and then selecting Google Maps.

Any photo spheres you upload will be added to your own personal Views page. You can add descriptions of your 360-degree photo masterpieces, and explore your uploads on a map.

Rapoport showed off his own Views page (above), which is filled with photo spheres from places like the San Francisco Bay Area, Hawaii, Sydney, Beijing, Paris, and even Google's campus in Mountain View.

In addition to community-contributed photo spheres, the Views site incorporates the Street View gallery, letting you explore its panoramas from places like the Grand Canyon and the Swiss Alps. To check out these collections, click "Explore" at the top of the site.