Episode 19: Local Guides Clean The Map

Early 2020 I have initiated a project called Local Guides Clean The Map (#LGCTM). The goal of the project is to remove places or contributions from Google Maps that do not or no longer belong there. How can you find those places? And what should local guides do to make sure they get removed from the map?



Jan Van Haver 0:05
Hello dear listener, welcome to the LetsGuide Podcast. Glad you could make it to yet another episode – it’s already number 19. Early 2020, I have initiated a project called Local Guides Clean The Map (#LGCTM). The goal of the project is to remove places or contributions from Google maps that do not, or no longer belong there. How can you find those places? And what should Local Guides do to make sure they get removed from the map? That’s the topic of today’s episode, Local Guides Clean The map.

Jan Van Haver 0:41
As usual, before we start I want to point out that I’m not an official representative of Google or of the Local Guides team. I’m just a local guides like most of you. Everything you hear in this episode is, once again, my personal interpretation of things. This episode is being recorded at the middle of February 2020, and is therefore of course describing the situation as it is today. Should you be listening at a later date, things might obviously have changed.

Vanessa P. 1:15
Let’s get started.

Jan Van Haver 1:19
Before we start ‘pour la petite histoire’ so to speak, I’d like to tell you the story of how I came up with this Local Guides Clean The Map idea, because it’s a very nice illustration of how local guides coming together can be a great source of inspiration. It actually happened during the lunch, at the first day when we were at the Google campus during Connect Live 2019, where I was fortunate to be selected. We were sitting outside at one of those round tables and we were joined by a Googler who had given one of the presentations during the morning session. I don’t remember the exact discussion, but all of a sudden I blurted out: “Well, we should do something like local guides clean the map”. I noted it in Simplenote, the app I use for taking notes – mainly because it’s a very nice combination of simplicity and useful features, but that’s another discussion. So you could say Local Guides Clean The Map was conceived in November 2019, and then born in January of 2020, when I published the blog post on Local Guides Connect, the official forum, of course.

Jan Van Haver 2:36
Speaking of that post – and I’ll include a link to it in the shownotes, of course – I must have edited it already, like, 50 times or so. Originally, it was just a text to explain the concept plus a list of things that I planned within the project. But I also asked Local Guides to create content as well and the feedback, I must say, has been overwhelming. People have been adding tips, submitting things you could do within the projects, there have been Meet-ups, there have been Local Guides Clean The Map related ideas by local guides like @MortenCopenhagen, @Amiran, @Annie4real, @biswa_ju1, @JeroenM and others. And the list keeps getting longer; more details on all that in a minute.

Jan Van Haver 3:28
So what is the basic idea behind Local Guides Clean The Map? Well, one of the popular things among local guides is adding places to Google Maps. Every time the notification pops up to confirm that the suggested edition was approved, it is extremely rewarding to realize that this newly added place is now searchable for other users of Maps thanks to your contribution. A more challenging task, however, is removing things that should no longer be shown on Google Maps. When a new business opens, it typically gets mapped quite quickly, either by the business owner himself or herself, by an agency representing the business owner, or by local guides. But when it closes, when the shop closes, the business owner, let alone the agency, is usually not going to bother removing the entry from the map. So that leaves only the local guides to mark the business as closed and thereby make sure that other users of Google Maps are no longer seeing it or using it as a destination. And that is exactly what the project’s Local Guides Clean The Map is all about: getting rid of what no longer belongs on the map. Shops that have closed; chains that have gone bankrupt; old, invalid, incomplete entries that have somehow made it to the maps years ago. Let’s get rid of them.

Jan Van Haver 5:00
Special attention should also be given to duplicates. Some places are two times on the map, and in some cases even more than two times. And those should also be reported to get them merged into one single entry on the map. If you haven’t come across any duplicates so far, you simply haven’t looked close enough, as there are really a lot. We will look into some tips on how to find them in a minute. Another type of maps entries that need to be removed is of course spam. There’s plenty of that around, although it seems to be worse in some areas compared to others. There are already a number of highly motivated local guides very active in the domain of spam removal, but they can obviously use all the help they can get, as also the spammers, I think, have no plans of retiring anytime soon.

Jan Van Haver 5:57
The next question is: what should you do to remove those doubles or outdated entries? The answer is quite simple: you click ‘Suggest an edit’ and then select the lower of the two options you can see, it’s called ‘Remove this place’ and then give the reason. Those reasons you can select from a list of choices that will be presented in the next screen. It’s not always clear what you have to choose in which circumstances, so here’s my personal interpretation, based on my experience and things I picked up in posts and forums.

Jan Van Haver 6:36
The first option in the list is called ‘Is permanently closed’ – one I use quite frequently myself, actually. It’s meant for places that are out of business or get a new owner. Also in those cases – even if the location is the same, and the type of business is the same and even the name is the same, but there’s a new owner -what you’re supposed to do is close the existing point of interest, so mark it as permanently closed and then add a new one. One of the main reasons to do so is, of course, the reviews and the pictures. Because those belonging to the existing point of interest might no longer be relevant to the new business or the new owner.

Jan Van Haver 7:23
Option number two is called ‘Has moved to a new location’ and if you select this, you get a screen where you can enter the new address and also update the map marker. In my view, or as far as I can judge, one of the main differences between ‘permanently closed’ and this ‘has moved to a new location’ is the number of entries you end up with in the database underlying Google Maps. With ‘permanently closed’ there are two points of interest: the old one, which is not removed from the database (it’s kept there – it doesn’t show up automatically, only if you specifically do a search on that one, but it’s still there in the database, probably for historical reasons, that you could say “Okay, on this location x years ago, there was this other business”). When you select ‘has moved to a new location’ there are not two entries in the database, but only one because you take the existing point of interest and move it to the new location. So not two, but just one.

Jan Van Haver 8:33
Option number three is called ‘Doesn’t exist’ for a place that no longer exists or have never existed. That’s the way it’s put on the official help site – but a place that no longer exists, yeah, something like ‘is permanently closed’, right? Well, anyway, with ‘Doesn’t exist’ these entries are also completely removed from the database. A side effect is that those, even if they are approved will no longer show up in your list of edits in your contributions, because, well, the entry is removed from the database. So how can they still show you the approved edits? There is of course, when the edit is approved an email that you can still keep hold of.

Jan Van Haver 9:24
Next option is called ‘Is a private place or home’. Well, yes, those shouldn’t also be shown on Google Maps, if it’s someone’s home. So that’s another reason you can select from the list to get it removed. Next up, is ‘Spam, fake or offensive’: a fake business or a place with offensive content that shouldn’t be displaced. Quite obvious, that one will also lead to removal from the database. The next one is one I really use a lot, because that is called ‘Is a duplicate’ – a place that’s a copy of another Google Maps place. You typically, if you select this one, get a list of proposed correct points of interest. So Maps, its algorithm is in the background searching for things that you could indicate as ‘Is this the one you want to merge into?’. The end results of this process of marking one as a duplicate is also that one point of interest, the one you merged, the one you said is the duplicate, will be removed from the map. And finally, if you think something should be removed for legal reasons – can be copyright reasons or it’s an illegal type of business in your country – then you can submit a legal request. This opens a separate form, which is no doubt landing with some specialized legal division at Google. Be aware you could only submit edits in some countries and regions, so all of what I’ve been saying here might not apply for you. But there’s nothing we can do about that, of course.

Jan Van Haver 11:12
A popular part of the original post on Connect that kicked off the Local Guides Clean The map campaign is tips on how to find those old, invalid, incomplete entries, the duplicates, spam – so let’s explore some of those tips. Use zoom: duplicates often only show up at the highest zoom level and especially if you use the combination of search and zoom on Maps; this will reveal duplicates that are not shown at first. With using search I mean: typing in the actual address ‘Baker Street 24’ as a search term. This will show you then all the businesses based there. This is something I didn’t know before I started with the campaign, and has helped me find quite a lot of duplicates. So: great tip that is, by @MortenCopenhagen. He also has a good tip on what to do when you find those duplicates. It’s a workflow he describes on what you should do before submitting a duplicate, or before submitting the suggestion to merge two of them. It’s a very detailed post, but the main point is: make sure the duplicates, the two points of interest, have the same data – so the same name for the place, the same pin, map marker, category, and so on – and only then submit the proposal to merge the two.

Jan Van Haver 12:48
I came across some examples of that kind of behavior myself. One was a case where I came across two points of interest with the same name and one had as category ‘contractor for pools’ and the other one was simply ‘pool’. I looked into the points of interest and it was clearly that it was a contractor for pools and not a pool. So I just suggested the two for merger – or suggested the pool one as duplicate – but this got quite quickly the ‘Not applied’ which we do not like as local guides of course. So then I first changed the ‘pool’ into ‘contractor for pools’ to match the categories for both and then hit the ‘mark as duplicates’ again… and got it applied within seconds. For another one it was the name of the place. For a library in Dutch the full word is ‘bibliotheek’, but we often also say the abbreviated form ‘bib’ and one of the places had the full word, the other the abbreviation. Not applied. Then I adapted the name to match in both cases, reapplied and then it got accepted. There’s also a case study on the Local Guides Clean The Map post on Connect, which is called ‘Tricky duplicates’, and that’s actually a posts I enjoyed very much writing because there I described, with screenshots also, step by step a real example of what you should do to mark duplicates and get one of them removed from the map. It was so much fun that I decided to make some more case studies in the near future. So that will be fun as well, I think. Please don’t hesitate – if you can come up with a case study, or a tip, or whatever yourself – do not hesitate to tag me and I will include a link to that post in the main post on Connect, of course.

Jan Van Haver 15:00
The next tip is really fun one to do. It’s called ‘Remove bad words’, written by @Amiran. Well, it’s quite easy: search for swear words in your own local language. Often those are very difficult to find for people not speaking your language, for example: members of the Google Maps team. So in searching for those words, you might often find a lot of fake entries in your local area and thereby really help fighting spam.

Jan Van Haver 15:33
Next tip is: actively look for points of interest that are out of business by using external sources of information. There’s several tips on that by Morten and myself, but also @Annie4real has posted a nice one. Possible sources are, for example, online databases from local authorities that list all the bankrupt businesses. There can be news reports about chains going bankrupt or being taken over by other chains. You should always be very careful here to make sure the source of information is real reliable and has up to date information. But with that information, combined with what you already find on Maps – pictures or reviews (sometimes, in reviews, you can see that a local guide has posted there “Is closed already since July 2019”, probably because that local guide was not aware that he or she could also mark the business as closed and so decided to put it in a review). Well, if you combine all that kinds of information, you could often remove a lot of redundant points of interest.

Jan Van Haver 16:48
One of my absolute favorite tips is: tap into the knowledge of colleagues, friends or relatives. They can tell you about closed businesses in the area where they live, as they are, of course, a reliable source of information for that area. And by the way: don’t forget to also check the streets near to where you live yourself, but where you might not have been for a while. There’s bound to be some changes there. So probably, if you go go there on a Local Guides Clean The Map walk, you can not only close some businesses, but also perhaps add some new ones that might have opened recently. And finally, one important tip to always keep in mind: when in doubt, do nothing. You need to be certain that the edit you suggest is corresponding to the current situation, because we don’t want to bring even more errors to the map than there already are, do we?

Jan Van Haver 17:51
When checking out the post on Connect, please also look into some wonderful posts in the ‘Things you can do’ section, such as a posts by @JeroenM called ‘Local Guides Clean The Map Prevention: Watch That Dirty Trail You Leave Behind’. The post is focusing on the fact that you need to make sure that you yourself are not the source of inappropriate info that later needs to be cleaned by other Local Guides. Jeroen also points to the fact that in the Questions & Answers, the questions to businesses, there are a lot of outdated and irrelevant questions and answers. You can also flag those for removal and biswa_ju1 reminds us that you could of course also report pictures that should be removed as part of the cleanup operation.

Jan Van Haver 18:47
And in the post on Connect, there are also some links to ideas posted in Idea Exchange – ideas of course related to cleaning the map, like the suggestion to create an easier way to report spammers idea submitted by @MahabubMunna or a proposal to make Check The Facts better suited for cleaning the map, an idea from @Rohlik. Go vote for those, I would say. In the meantime, there’s also already been Local Guides Clean The Map meetups; the communities in Indonesia, India and Nigeria have already been quite active. And actually I have hosted a Local Guides Clean The Map meetup myself, just a couple of days ago, in the lovely Dutch city of Breda. On those occasions, some local guides come together to see what can be cleaned in a specific area and put those tips I mentioned before to the live test. I’m still working on the recap post for the Breda meetup but I will certainly use the experience I gained there to create a post that has tips on how other local guides, like you, dear listener, can set up their own Clean The Map meetup.

Jan Van Haver 20:07
A final point I want to address is the logo. We set up a campaign where we were asking other local guides to submit a design for a campaign logo and no less than 17 local guides did just that. We selected 6 finalists from those, and I will make sure to include include links in the shownotes where you can see all those logo designs. And for those six finalists, on Connect, local guides could vote and a lot of them did that exactly. The voting has now ended and the final result will be revealed soon.

Vanessa P. 20:49
It’s time for some news.

Jan Van Haver 20:54
There was quite a bit of exciting news in the last few days and weeks. For example, the first details have been announced of Connect Live 2020. It will take place in October (11-14th) somewhere in the Bay Area – I’ll make sure to include a link to the post with the details in the shownotes. Of course, if you have no idea what Connect Live is: go back and listen to episode number 16 of the LetsGuide Podcast. You’ll find all the details there and then you will want to apply, believe me.

Jan Van Haver 21:32
Another new thing was the new logo, not only for the Clean The Map campaign, but Google Maps itself has a new logo, as part of the 15 year celebration. I’ll also link to a nice video that was created, that shows the evolution of the logo through the years – the link will be in the shownotes. Along with the logo design in the 15 year celebration, there was also a new layout of the Google Maps app. And, well, usually if such a major redesign is made, you have a lot of people posting everywhere “Well, the old one was much better. I don’t like this new thing”. Well, the mere fact that this is not really happening, or at least not at a scale where I can obviously see it, that seems to suggest that the redesign is quite good and quite widely accepted. I think by now it’s probably rolled out to more or less all users of the Maps app world wide – I will also include a link to the post that gives the details on that one.

Jan Van Haver 22:42
One thing I really like about the new layout of the app is that in your overview of edits in the ‘Your contributions’ page – or ‘Contribute’ it’s now called – that overview now gives also a lot more information about your edits, for example: the suggested name that you submitted or the category. And that is really great for edits that result in a ‘Pending’ status, because then you can still see what exactly you submitted. What I do not like so much about the new layout is that, when a pending edit goes to ‘Approved’ status, it no longer jumps to the top of the list of your edits, but rather it remains at the place where it was originally, and changes status there. So instead of seeing your edits sorted on the date they were last modified, as was the case before, I think they are now sorted by the date they were created. You still do get an email when the pending edit goes to approved, but, well, for people that make a lot of edits it’s gotten harder to find out where exactly are those, or when exactly do the pendings go to approved?

Jan Van Haver 24:05
And by the way: have you, in the new layout, I mean, already found the Questions & Answers section? It’s actually on your personal profile – which is also redesigned and quite nice, you can give a brief description of yourself as local guides… nice new feature – so, the Q&A section is on that profile page, all the way down. You have to scroll to the very bottom and there you will find the Q&A section. Is it this well hidden because they plan to get rid of it altogether? Wait and see, I would say.

Jan Van Haver 24:44
One final new thing is that we’ve seen some tests with reading aloud the point of interest names and addresses. So, next to the point of interest, you then see a small blue speaker icon and when you click it, then reads aloud the name or the address of the place, which is very convenient in certain situations, of course. I’ve seen that show up for brief periods of time during the last few weeks, so no doubt that this is some work in progress.

Jan Van Haver 25:20
And that’s all I have for this episode, dear listener. Please do get in touch with me if you have any comments or remarks or questions. Do send them either to letsguidepodcast@gmail.com or send me a tweet on Twitter, where you can find me under LocalGuidesGuru. Obviously you could also find me on Connect under my name @JanVanHaver. Or you can leave a message on my blog, there’s a page there where you can leave messages janvanhaver.com. The shownotes, as ever, you will find on letsguidepodcast.com. Thanks for listening and I hope to you will continue listening to the next episode which will be the amazing number 20.

Transcribed by https://otter.ai

3 thoughts on “Episode 19: Local Guides Clean The Map

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