Episode 7: Local Guides Connect

Google provides an official platform for local guides, called Local Guides Connect. What exactly can you find there? What can local guides do there? And why should you definitely check it out?



Jan Van Haver 0:06
Hello, and welcome to yet another episode of the LetsGuide Podcast, the ultimate podcast for Google Local Guides. This is episode number 7, and today we will be talking about Local Guides Connect, which happens to be the official platform provided by Google. What exactly can you find there? What should you as local guys do there? And why should you definitely check it out? As usual, I want to point out that I have no official affiliation whatsoever to Google or local guides team. I’m just a local guide like most of you. So everything you hear today is just my personal interpretation. This episode is recorded the end of May 2019, and the situation described is therefore the one as it is today and it might change in the future, of course. And actually, some of the things I wanted to talk about about today have changed. Exactly today, a couple of hours ago, a post was released announcing some changes. So we will definitely cover that as well.

Vanessa P. 1:15
Let’s get started.

Jan Van Haver 1:19
So, what exactly is then Local Guides Connect? Well, it’s a platform provided by Google. So, it’s official, and according to the homepage, it’s meant to share tips, discoveries and news with the community for people on Google Maps. If you surf to http://www.localguidesconnect.com – and I’ll be referring to the desktop version in the course of this podcast; there’s, of course, also a mobile version, but I’ll be pointing out where things are on the screen left and right on the desktop version, because on the mobile version things get rearranged according to screen size, of course. Well, if you go to the homepage, you will see on the left a number of categories or topics where new posts can be added. And on the right a preview of three or four posts for each category (if you see three or four depends on the screen size).

Jan Van Haver 2:17
Important to know is that on the homepage, those preview posts are sorted by date of last comment. So the ones you see there are always the ones that have received a comment recently, or are new to the list quite recently. Once you go into one of the topics, the posts are sorted by date of publication, so you always see the newest posts first, no matter if there’s a posts that has had three comments later, it will be at the place where it was originally posted in that chronological order.

Jan Van Haver 2:56
So, first let’s dive into the topics. What are the kinds of subjects that you can write posts or read posts on Connect? There’s obviously a post on that topic on Connect. And of course, I’ll put a link to it in the shownotes. The first one is Photography. There you find posts about improving your photography skills. You can see stunning photos, either normal ones or 360 ones, that local guides have captured. Or you can ask advice on, for example, taking excellent shots with your phone.

Jan Van Haver 3:35
A second topic is Travel. Here you find information about exciting places, and you could also receive travel recommendations. It’s also a great place for you to tell other local guides what you love about a place where you live, so you can give tips on places to go when they’re in town. This, however, is sometimes a bit confusing. I’ll come back to that in a minute.

Jan Van Haver 4:02
The next category is Food & Drink. There’s really a lot of foodies out there on a Connect. So this is a popular section of the Connect homepage. It’s meant for local guides who love food, where you can share dining experiences, for example at a new restaurant, or post photos of a meal that you made and that’s popular in your country.

Jan Van Haver 4:29
Next up is Meetups. Here you’ll find posts about meetups hosted by local guides just like you – and ‘meetup’ in case you should not be aware of what it exactly is, is an informal get together with other local guides in your area (for sure there’ll be an episode about meetups in the future). Most of the posts you find here are either the announcement of an upcoming meetup or a so called ‘recap’ post – so after the meetup, you’re supposed to write another post to point out what happened during the meetup and of course add some pictures.

Jan Van Haver 5:11
Next up, we have Local Stories. And this is where the confusion comes from, because it’s not always clear how to distinguish posts that are posted here with posts that are posted in the Travel category. Local Stories is meant for posts about local guides who are making a positive impact in their communities, for example with information about accessibility or the environment, posts to inspire others to join your cause or share tips for ways people can make a difference in their local neighborhoods. That’s the way it’s written in the official post. In practice, however, it’s often what you expect to find in the Travel category, but for the local environment, so a lot of local guides seem to think: “okay, if I’m writing something about my own place, I post it in Local Stories. If I write it about somewhere I am visiting or traveling, I post it under Travel.” And it’s not always clear what to find where or what to place where.

Jan Van Haver 6:21
Next up, we have How To, a section with ‘how to’s’ where you can find posts on tips for writing helpful reviews, how to become a better mapper, and also how to help newbies discover what it means to be local guide. You can also use this section to ask questions or share tips for local guides who want to make more helpful contributions. Actually, when in doubt, use this one – if you’re not sure where to post it and you really think none of the others apply, you can just put it here under How To – for example when you discover a bug, well, bug reports also show up most of the time in this How To section.

Jan Van Haver 7:08
Next up in the list of topics is Announcements and here you’ll find insider information straight from Googlers. And even before official emails go out, things get published here, so very much something to keep an eye on. That brings me also to the point where I’d like to point out that you can find more or less four types of contributors on Local Guides Connect. Of course, there are local guides like me and you and most of us. Secondly, there are Connect moderators. Those are in fact also just local guides, but they are selected, based on their merits in the community, by Google and given the status of Connect Moderator, which means that they can help moderate some of the things on the forum. They have more rights than normal users, and of course, are very helpful to this. Those, as I pointed out, are also local guides, they are not Google employees. That’s different, then, from Google Moderators, because those are Google employees. And their job is to be moderator on Local Guides Connect – you could say they are half helpdesk people and half people who are in charge of guiding the local guides on the forum and encouraging the local guides to make contributions both on Connect and also on Google Maps, of course. And the fourth category are Googlers, and those, of course, are people working for Google, but not specifically on the local guides program. They usually write these Announcements posts, that’s what we were talking about. A bit of a problem, in my view, here is that those posts from Google, obviously get a lot of likes and a lot of replies, but sometimes also questions and remarks in the comments on those announcement posts, and these are not really followed up or picked up, which is a bit of a pity, of course.

Jan Van Haver 9:22
Then there’s also a section, in the list of topics on the homepage on the left, which is called Helpdesk, which also contains posts from the Google team, of course, with official information on frequently asked topics – that’s what you could call it. And then, as I mentioned at the start of the episode, there was a change made just a few hours before I started recording this episode of the LetsGuide Podcast: there are also links directly to Google Maps and to the page with your contributions on Google Maps in this menu list on the left of Local Guides Connect, which is of course, very, very nice and very practical.

Jan Van Haver 10:10
You can make those sections show up or not on your Connect homepage with a number of switches on the Settings page. I’ll get back to that in a minute. One thing, however, you need to realize is that you what you see now on Local Guides Connect is a kind of ‘version 2’. So let me dig a bit into the history. The start of the forum of Local Guides Connect was the 15th of January 2015. We haven’t exact date there, as it was mentioned by Tracy, the local guides program ‘Big Boss’ you could say, on Connect itself. The switch to the second version happened in the summer of 2018, on the 23rd of August 2018 to be exactly, which was easy to find for me as by then I was spending a good amount of time there myself – I started contributing in August 2017.

Jan Van Haver 11:12
There were several reasons for the switch. And some of them had to do with forms of behavior that some of the participants are showing there, but that were considered unwanted by the Google team. This was partly linked to the element of gamification in Local Guides Connect. You can earn points and levels as local guide, well, on Connect you can earn badges by being active on the platform. There are badges for giving or receiving likes (or ‘kudos’ as they used to be called, and I think the term kudos is still floating around here and there), there are badges for writing posts, and there are badges for having your reply to one of the posts on the forum being marked as ‘solution’ – we’ll get back to that later. For each of them, you get a badge for the first one. So: first post, first solution and so on. And then for certain quantities, for example: 100 likes given, 500 likes received, 50 posts written and so on. In the first version there were badges for much more quantities (25, 250) and the game element I was referring to lead here to what I would call ‘badge hunting’, especially since you can influence some of those numbers yourself. For example, the number of likes you give to posts or replies. Some people were tempted to start liking hundreds or even thousands of posts and replies just to get this badge ‘I gave 5000 likes’ (or kudos). The aim, I think, of the local guides team is to keep it fun and encouraging, but not a real competition. So that’s one of the reasons, I think, why they made this change in the new version launched in the summer of 2018.

Jan Van Haver 13:12
Which badges you have you can see on your profile. And to open your profile, you simply have to click your profile picture in the top right corner and then click on the link ‘My Profile’. There you can also see your posts and comments, plus the photos you used on Connect in the previous posts that you have written. I mean: it’s just a click away once you’re there. It’s very convenient that you could also see your drafts there. So, sometimes you start writing a post and then – especially on mobile, this has happened to me more than once… you have fingers which are just a bit too thick for convenience, and you click on the wrong button and think you have lost all your content, but that’s not true: the posts are autosaved after you have written a few characters only. So in this draft section, you will then find back the post you were writing.

Jan Van Haver 14:13
There’s also a load of statistics under the My Profile section, which contains the number of posts you have written, the number of comments, the number of likes you have given and received, and even the total amount of minutes that you spent online on the Connect forum, which is very ‘inconvenient’ for some people to see, I think. Some of these statistics will always be zero, I think because they might be referring to possibilities in the forum software, (which is provided by an external company called Lithium, so the software on which the platform is running is not Google software, it is a third party tool). It probably contains sections which are simply not in use in Connect, so the statistics referring to those sections will inevitably always be zero. By the way, to give you an idea, the top number of likes that is received by one single local guide at the moment, is almost 70,000 likes, so you’ll need to write a lot of posts and get a lot of likes to come near that one. With about 3000 likes, you get into the top 100 – to give you an idea. And if you receive your first like, well, then you can join more than 107,000 local guides who have received at least 1 like. Very impressive numbers if you ask me.

Jan Van Haver 15:54
If you click on the profile picture in the top right corner, you also see some icons. A text balloon one, which gives access to all the posts that and comments that you have written yourself. There’s a bell icon, which is your notification feed – it will show all the mentions and likes that you received. And then there’s the envelope icon, which is the list of private messages. This is a system meant to, for example, exchange information – let’s say personal contact info, which you cannot share on a public posts, obviously, on Connect. So you can write a private post to another local guide on Connect using this module. There’s a button there to just write a new message, but more often than not you will be somewhere on Connect and find a user that you want to get in touch with or that you want to ask a question or exchange some information with. Then you could just go to the profile of that user and scroll down on the profile page, and there you will find the possibility to send this user a private message.

Jan Van Haver 17:11
One very important thing there is that there is a 30 second delay between the possibility to send messages. So you might say: “Okay, how could you send two separate messages within 30 seconds?” Well, I’ve come across this several times, because when you are editing – and once again: on mobile device, this has happened… the ‘fat finger’ syndrome once again – you’re editing a post and then you get an HTML-error. Okay, the error is corrected, and then you click ‘Post’ again and then it says: “You have reached your limits”. And that’s simply because of this 30 seconds rule. If you ever come across this, simply wait more than 30 seconds, and then hit ‘Post’ and the private message will be posted without any problem. And as I said before, also there the brand new access to Maps directly from Local Guides Connect and to Your Contributions are also blended in in that section.

Jan Van Haver 18:23
The top right section next to your profile picture also contains a number of icons there: once again the bell one to check your messages and notifications, which gets a red number, a red dot rather with the number in it, to indicate how much new messages there are. There’s a possibility to change the language of the interface in which you use Connect – that’s the globe icon. And then there’s the settings area. I have to admit that is not the most logically organized part of Connect. Several of the settings things, or the settings modules are accessible from multiple starting points, which makes it not always easy to find things back. Others, on the other hand, are hidden quite deep, several clicks away, especially if you get into the advanced settings. There’s a lot of things there where you could easily get lost and also there, I think, there are a number of features that simply do not seem to be in use on Connect, so I’m not going to break my head on that any further.

Jan Van Haver 19:37
Very practical in the settings, though, is the email preference settings. There you can determine whether you receive an email notification for each time you were mentioned, for each like you receive, for each tag, and so on. For me, as a quite active user on Connect, I have configured it to only send me an email if another user specifically tags me. So if you want to draw my attention, please tag me. For those who might be unclear on what tagging is: it’s using the @-symbol and then typing in the name of the user. Not always easy to do, especially for users Connect users with a quite short name, because there are hundreds of thousands of people on Connect. And with short names, it’s simply very, very hard to find the right person.

Jan Van Haver 20:35
Another important aspect of the settings is under the part My Settings, sub-part Personal and then Personal Information. There you have the possibility to make a signature that will appear under all your posts and comments on Connect. I’ll include a link in the shownotes with instructions on how to make this very nice, because in this signature you could also include visual elements, like a lot of local guides are doing with flags for their country, or links to other posts, or your social media profile, for example.

Jan Van Haver 21:20
Something which will be quite clear even the first glance of Connect is that pictures are very important there. You are always encouraged by the local guides team to add a picture to whatever you post, and posts without a picture will appear with a placeholder. At the beginning of the new version, there were a lot of posts with placeholders, and I can tell you: visually it was not nice to look at. You can just provide some of your pictures, you can reuse them from earlier uploads and there’s also a photo library if you don’t have an appropriate photo to add to your posts. You can find more information on those things in the Helpdesk section.

Jan Van Haver 22:11
Unfortunately, those pictures can also cause problematic navigation, especially on mobile devices, as they make the size per post preview relatively big, and therefore, only a few posts previews per page can be shown, and then going to the next and back is not always easy. Let’s say you’re scrolling around a bit in one of the sections, Travel for example. And you’re scrolling down, you click ‘More’ to see the next few posts and then ‘More’ once more, and then ‘More’ once more. And then you see a post which is interesting to you. So you open that post to read it. Okay. Then after reading the post, you click on ‘Back’. Well, that takes you to the top of the list. So if you want to find where you left off, you have to scroll down, click More, click More click More all the time. So the navigation, especially on mobile devices… not my favorite part of Connect, I have to admit. On the desktop version there’s a workaround for this because there you can easily right-click to open the post in a new tab. And then, well, after reading, you close the tab, and you’re still at the place where you were, of course.

Jan Van Haver 23:33
Something which can no longer be found currently on Connect and which was there in the original version, is sections where you could find all posts per language and, judging by the comments, this is missed by quite a few people, I think. Currently, you can still use the language tags to organize the posts by language but it’s not quite the same experience as it used to be. in the shownotes, I will post a URL that you can use as a bookmark and where in the URL you can always change to characters referring to a language to find posts in another language. So for example, in the URL there might be ES for Spanish. Well, if you change that particular part of the URL to IT for Italian, you will find the posts in Italian – check the shownotes.

Jan Van Haver 24:33
And other thing I actually wanted to complain about that is more or less missing in Connect nowadays is the possibility to mark an answer as a solution. But lo and behold, one of the changes that were rolled out today is bringing back the ‘Accept as solution’ button. So this is really, really good news, because I really appreciate this possibility that local guides can click on one of the answers given to the questions they asked to mark it as the solution. Personally, this always gives me a very nice feeling to know that you’ve been able to help one of the fellow local guides.

Jan Van Haver 25:21
So in summary, local guides Connect is something between a forum and a social network. It’s more than just a regular forum, as it’s not only about questions to be answered and issues to be solved. But it’s also not a full social network either, as connecting with other local guides or finding out when a particular local guide has added a new post or new comment is quite hard. Some of you might by now be thinking that I’m completely forgetting about one other part of Local Guides Connect, but that’s of course absolutely not true because it’s actually my favorite part, and we’ll discuss it right now.

Vanessa P. 26:08
What a great idea.

Jan Van Haver 26:12
In ‘What a great idea’ I spend a bit of time in each episode of the LetsGuide Podcast talking about Idea Exchange, absolutely my favorite part of the Local Guides Connect website. Usually I spend some time to cover a specific idea contributed by one of the local guides, but not this time – I’ll just give a bit of general information. Idea exchange is the part where you, as local guides, can submit ideas or suggestions and then all the other local guides can vote for them, if of course they are good suggestions, good ideas. You can post ideas that are related to Google Maps in general, you can post about Connect, you can post about perks, meetups and local guide topics.

Jan Van Haver 27:03
Those ideas submitted then get a status: usually, if it’s just a new one, it gets ‘Voting open’ so you can then vote for them. The Google team can also mark them as ‘Needs info’ if whatever you posted is not quite clear; they can be marked ‘In progress’ which is a very nice one, of course, because those are the ideas that the Google team picked up from the Idea Exchange on Connect, from you and me as local guide, and decided “okay, we could do this”. Those ideas at some point then get the status ‘Implemented’ when they land in the actual application. There’s also a status ‘Revisit later’ if the team says “okay, this could be a good idea, but not right now”. And finally, there’s also a status ‘Closed’ if they decide not to do it or if the idea was a bit spammy – you find those as well in the section. Make sure to click once the sections ‘In progress’ and ‘Implemented’ because there you can see which ideas have been already implemented or are being worked on by the team. And they can serve as a nice source of inspiration for you to post some new ideas, of course. Did I mentioned already that there is a difficulty in navigation? Well, that applies even more here, especially once again on mobile devices. I’ll include in the shownotes the URL that I always use myself as the starting point to explore the Idea Exchange, because it’s an overview of all of them with the different tabs you can click on. And then there’s also a button called ‘All ideas’, and if you click that once you see all of the submitted ideas in the Idea Exchange chronologically, so the newest ones always on top – check that URL (you can bookmark it) in the shownotes.

Jan Van Haver 29:19
And that’s all I have for this episode. There’s really a lot more to tell about Connect, but please do check it out yourself, scroll around, click around and explore the entire forum. It’s really worth while.

Jan Van Haver 29:33
If you want to get in touch with me, you can do so on Twitter, you can find me there under LocalGuidesGuru, or you could just send an email to letsguidepodcast@gmail.com. On Connect of course, as I mentioned, I’m all the time there and you can find me under my real name which is Jan Van Haver. And of course the shownotes for this episode can be found on the website of course: letsguidepodcast.com. I hope to find you here in the audience next time, in about two weeks.

Transcribed by https://otter.ai

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