Episode 8: News & Updates

The way local guides can and should interact with Google Maps is constantly being updated. What has changed since the podcast started? What is new? Are there updates for the topics we already covered?



Jan Van Haver 0:00
Hello, and welcome to yet another episode of the LetsGuide Podcast, the ultimate podcast for Google Local Guides. This is episode number 8, and today it’s a bit of a special one because we will not be talking about one specific subject as we usually do, but will cover the news and updates.

Jan Van Haver 0:15
The way local guides can and should interact with Google Maps is constantly being updated. So we’re going to look today on what has changed since the podcast has started a number of months ago: What is new in Google Maps? And are there any updates for the topics we already covered? As usual, at the start of the podcast, I want to point out that there is no official link between me and Google or the Google Local Guides team. I’m just a local guide like most of you. Therefore, anything you hear in the podcast is just my opinion/interpretation of things. This episode is recorded in the middle of June 2019, and therefore anything you hear is the description of the situation as it is today.

Vanessa P. 0:43
Let’s get started.

Jan Van Haver 0:45
The first thing I want to mention is something I need to add to the content of episode number 4, that was dealing with Google My Business. There I mentioned that the process of claiming a business is usually done by sending a postal card with the code. But good friend of the podcast and Egyptian level 10 Local Guide Nabil Azeez pointed out to me, in a message after the podcast was released, that this process can also be done through telephone and email, which is 100% correct, of course. Thank you, Nabil for pointing that out.

Jan Van Haver 1:54
That fits in quite nicely with something new I noticed a relatively short while ago, which is that instead of ‘Claim this business’ sometimes there is another phrase in that particular place on the Google Maps entry, and that’s ‘Manage this listing’. That seems to be not meant for business owners, but rather for employees, because if you click on the info button that comes with the text ‘Manage this listing’, it asks “Do you work here?” If you click it, it leads to a page with several verification options. And amongst them is of course – as I mentioned earlier – telephone, and also email. And this is very rare, that you see some email addresses within Google Maps, within a business listing there. Of course, it’s a few clicks down, it’s not just wide open, but still: it’s very rare, if you asked me, to see email addresses mentioned like that. Actually, I’ve seen occasions where there were businesses where several email addresses were listed as possible email addresses that Google will send an email to if you click that option to then not claim the business, but manage the listing.

Jan Van Haver 3:18
Not new, but new to me, is the fact that there are tools provided to people that want to manage their Google My Business account, by companies like MapLabs. They offer services and insights for Google My Business – to help you with them; but also something called UpdateBlocker. And that’s that’s bit nasty for local guides because that actually overrides edits done by local guides in the Google My Business program. It’s not the only time that Google My Business and the local guides program have, let me say ‘conflicting interests’, as I mentioned in the episode on Google My Business, but well… businesses bring money to Google, so their interest will usually be considered more important than that of the local guides. You might find that a pity but you’ll just have to accept it as it is one of the facts of life.

Jan Van Haver 4:19
In Episode Number three, we were talking about selecting pictures. And there the suggestion was made that it might be a good idea to limit the maximum number of pictures a local guides can upload per point of interest. But we might have to reconsider that because at I/O, the yearly conference that Google is organizing to show what is coming up and what new features they will be releasing in their products. At I/O this year, Google introduced a new use of Google Lens to be released later this year in combination with Google Maps. The idea is that you would point your Camera at a menu in a restaurant and the Lens program, the Lens app would then highlight popular dishes in that restaurant. This of course only works if loads of pictures have been uploaded, by local guides, of menu items, and those pictures have been labeled. Only then can this of course work. You might have experienced yourself that Google is also constantly asking to label products, so perhaps there will be more and other uses of this Google Lens combined with Google Maps in the future, but to my knowledge: about products nothing was officially announced at I/O this year.

Jan Van Haver 5:49
This Google Lens combination with Google Maps fits in very nicely, and the need to have a lot of pictures of menu items and labels fits in very nicely with the new section that appears at the top of the ‘Your contributions’ page. It’s called add ‘Photos and reviews’ and it’s also labeled ‘beta’ so I’m not sure if everybody has it already. It shows suggested pictures to upload, it shows you dishes that you have taken a picture of but not yet provided a label, and obviously – as always and ever – they asked you to write reviews for places. When you open this new module, it first shows a pop-up message, which alternatingly will show the number of views of your pictures (listen back to episode 3 if you want to hear my view on those views), so alternatingly the views of the pictures and the number of views of your reviews. Then it shows your profile picture, after this pop up has gone, with a counter next to its, and this is showing the points you have scored as a local guide that day – another element of gamification, I would say. When you click that profile picture, a window will appear that shows you your top score of the month next to the score of that date. I’m not exactly sure how that counter works, as in my experience sometimes points are added much later, not on the day itself. But that’s something we know from the points as local guides in general: sometimes they just show up much later, I would say up: to a week later and sometimes in bursts of hundreds of points at the same time. By the way, something I noticed is that this counter is a three digit counter, so the team seems to think that local guides will never earn more than 1000 points on a single day. Well, I know from my own experience on the road to level 10 that this is simply not true. Some days a fourth digit would be very nice to have.

Jan Van Haver 8:14
Next on my list is episode 2, which was dealing with categories. And as I mentioned there: every once in a while some new categories are added. And since the episode was recorded a couple of months ago, obviously some new ones have been added as well. This time mainly luxury car brands like Ferrari, or Lamborghini, or Aston Martin, and also some new restaurant types. That seems to be something that returns in every list of new categories. I’ll make sure to put in the shownotes a link to the post I wrote on this on Local Guides Connect, the official forum for local guides. And that post contains a full detailed list of all the new categories. By the way, the next episode will again be about categories, more specifically categories in an international context. So stay tuned for the next episode also of the LetsGuide Podcast.

Jan Van Haver 9:19
One of the more recent episodes was episode 6, a quite a popular one The title was ‘Breaking the rules’ and it dealt with the fact that sometimes local guides have their accounts suspended. And several of these local guides recently have announced that their accounts have been unsuspended, unlocked, but after a few hours, sometimes a few days it was then blocked again. Not sure how to interpret that. To be continued later, I guess. What made me very happy in this context, though, is that some some local guides reported to have listened to the episode, acted on the advice given there, and then had their accounts restored. Me happy.

Jan Van Haver 10:06
In episode 7 I was talking about Local Guides Connect, the official forum and I was specifically expressing my gratitude that the ‘Accept as solution’ button was back. It had been gone for a while, but it was back at the time of the recording. However, it was there only for a couple of hours. Why this exactly happened on the day of recording will be a mystery forever. But anyway, now it’s gone again; it’s hidden behind the three dots of the menu: click the ‘…’ and ‘Mark as solution’ is still there. So the rant I was planning then… I’ll have to do now, because having an answer marked as solution to me is one of the most gratifying experiences as a local guide. However, it’s going to be a mini rant as the button is there when you start typing a reply to a comment. So you’ve made your post, somebody added a comment and then you reply to that comment, and at the bottom of that screen you see the preview of that comment. There the ‘Accept as solution’ button is present again. So, okay, once again for local guides team: benefit of the doubt.

Jan Van Haver 11:26
And then there are a couple of new things that I have not covered in any episode yet but that are simply new since I started with the podcast – I mean, new to Google Maps. The first one of those is ‘Events’. About half of the local guides see a new tab on the your contributions screen, next to Photos and Reviews, and that’s called Events. No idea what exactly determines who gets to see it already and who does not see it yet. Is it the country? Is it the operating system version? I’ve tested both of those but did not find out if that could determine it. I don’t have it yet myself, so I can only report what I have picked up from others. Local Guides could add Events for a specific period of time. So you can say: “Okay, at this square, for example, there’s an event going on from this date to that date. And the event will then show up on the map during the duration of the event of course. Probably I’ll have more info on that in a future episode, when I finally have the feature myself.

Jan Van Haver 12:39
Something I can report on from personal experience is the AR-mode for routes, where AR stands for augmented reality. It was one of the novelties shown at the I/O conference in 2018, and the idea is that you use the camera of your phone to see where you need to go. Google Maps then superimposes the directions on top of the camera images. The trick, so to speak, behind it is that Google Maps recognizes the buildings from where you are when you point your camera at them, and then shows arrows and street names and the distances to certain points on top of those camera images. It’s a very neat feature. But it’s not available everywhere, as the recognition of those buildings and environments depends on the info from Street View. So the AR mode for navigation, for finding your routes is only available in places where Street View is available. In my personal experience it’s also not the most stable part of Google Maps as I have experienced some crashes of this part, especially on starting it up.

Jan Van Haver 13:58
One last thing I’d like to mention is Snake. It’s becoming a tradition with Google Maps that on April 1, Google launches a game on Maps, where you can access the game via the main menu of Maps. Last year it was Wally, you know, this cartoon character where you have to find a number of characters in very, very, very crowded pictures. And then you could earn a local guides badge with this Wally thing. This year, it’s Snake the legendary game you could play on mobile phones when they were not yet called smartphones, and when everybody had a Nokia. There’s no badge this year, though, but still it’s fun to play. The icon is no longer present in the Maps menu, but you can still play the game. I’ll make sure to include a link to the URL where you can play it in the shownotes.

Vanessa P. 14:55
What a great idea

Jan Van Haver 14:59
in every episode use this ‘What a great idea’-section to highlight one of the ideas from my absolutely favorite part of Local Guides Connect: the Idea Exchange. There you can submit suggestions to improve Google Maps or improve Local Guides Connect and then other local guides can click the Like button to express that they would also very much like to have this idea implemented. Some of the ideas have already been implemented, so it’s absolutely worth while to post something there and to click and vote for other ideas.

Jan Van Haver 15:37
This week, I’ve chosen one which is linked to what we discussed in episode 6, the one about breaking the rules, and similar ideas have been posted in the past, but I’ve simply picked this new one by Connect moderator Paul Pavlinovich which is called ‘Automated warning before being suspended from local guides’. The idea is that some local guides get their accounts suspended not by consciously doing something wrong, but rather because they lack the knowledge of the rules, best practices, guidelines, whatever you want to name them. So the suggestion is to set up a system of warning that includes some kind of indication what exactly the problem is, which part of your contributions is not good, and then give some time to correct it. I’ll make sure of course, to include a link to that idea in the show notes. So look it up and vote for it by all means.

Jan Van Haver 16:40
Before we’re wrapping up this episode’s, I want to mention one more time the EuroMeetup 19, a big meetup we had in Ghent, Belgium, from 7th to the 10th of June. It was a fabulous experience with in the end 15 local guides from 8 different countries and it was really, really nice to be part of that. And I want to invite you all to read the recap posts on Local Guides Connect – obviously there’ll be a link to that as well in the shownotes.

Jan Van Haver 17:16
That’s all I have time for in this episode, but do please get in touch with me. Can be done through email: simply send an email to letsguidepodcast@gmail.com; reach out to me on Twitter under the handle ‘localguidesguru’ or you can find me of course on Local Guides Connect under my real name, Jan Van Haver. The shownotes, as always, can be found on letsguidepodcast.com, the website that hosts the episodes and all the show notes. And before I forget: do give a rating or a review of for the LetsGuide Podcast in your favorite podcast app. It does make a difference. I hope to find you back in the audience next time. And as I mentioned before: the next episode we’ll talk about local language categories.

Transcribed by https://otter.ai

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