Episode 20: Fun Facts

Unlike most episodes, this one does not focus on 1 specific topic, but is rather a collection of fun facts I have gathered along the way while being active as local guide. Some of those are, no doubt, things that at least some of you will already know, but others I am revealing here for the very first time.







Jan Van Haver 0:05
Hello, and welcome to the LetsGuide Podcast, the ultimate podcast for Google Local Guides. Today is another milestone for LetsGuide Podcast as we’ve now reached 20 episodes and still going strong, if I may say so myself. Unlike most episodes, today’s episode is not one that focuses on one specific topic, but rather it’s a collection of fun facts, things I’ve gathered along the way while being active as a local guide. Some of those are no doubt things that, to at least some of you, will already be known, but other fun facts I am revealing here and now for the very first time

Jan Van Haver 0:49
As usual, before beginning, I want to emphasize that I’m not an official representative of Google or the Local Guides team. I’m just a local guide like most of you. Things I’m telling in this podcast are therefore my personal interpretation. The recording date of this episode is the middle of March 2020 and it is therefore describing the situation as it is today – but that is constantly changing, especially these days. So if you might be listening at a later point in time, things might have changed.

Vanessa P. 1:26
Let’s get started.

Jan Van Haver 1:30
So let’s dig into it. I’ve actually come up with a list of 10 different fun facts. The first one is a fun fact that was revealed actually at Connect Live 2019. It’s the fact that Local Guides across the globe make 20 million contributions every single day. That’s really an amazing number. So: 20 million reviews, pictures, videos, edits, replies, fact checks, you name it. This scale, 20 million per day, makes it extra tough to handle all of it, especially to make sure that what should be on Maps is getting published as soon as possible, and what does not belong on it should either not get shown in the first place or get removed as soon as possible. But with such high numbers – having to be processed in really a multitude of possible scenarios – it’s really difficult to come up with automatic methods or AI (artificial intelligence) that have the effect you’re aiming for, without causing problems or errors in other places. So before you say next time: “Can’t they simply do this or that to have the publication effect on maps?”, please remember the scale of things.

Jan Van Haver 2:53
I personally have made about 32,000 contributions in about three years or so – so, let’s say 1000 days – which then averages to three contributions per day. Although there might of course, and there will have been days with zero contributions, and also days with much bigger amounts of contributions on a single day – but more on that later. Most of those contributions I make are edits, and especially category edits.

Jan Van Haver 3:24
And that brings us to the second fun fact. It’s the story on how I discovered how to find the right category if you want to add a point of interest, a place on Maps. Perhaps this is recognizable for some of you. Early on, when I started as local guide, I obviously wanted to add missing places. And this went quite well for a while until I came across a hair salon that was not on the map yet. So obviously I wanted to add that. But then there was a problem, because the category field showed a list of possible categories, but not a hair salon. How was this possible… such a basic category was missing in that list? Well, the emotions that went through me were from upset, to puzzled, to angry. I even used the ‘Send feedback’ option – expecting at that time still to get an answer within the next five minutes, which obviously did not happen. (Remember the scale from the first fun fact?) But later on, I figured out that it’s not just that list. The list just shows a few examples of categories; you can simply start typing a word like ‘hair’ and then, there you have it: the category hair salon will show up right away. The total list is 4000 categories long, well at least in English, there’s about 3000 for most other languages. Later on, I discovered that actually more local guides have been facing this problem. By the way, if you’re interested in the categories and the lists of them, please listen back to episode 2 and episode 9 of the podcast. Episode 9 was about local language categories.

Jan Van Haver 5:19
On then to the third fun fact, which is one of a few facts about Google Maps as such, not specifically about being a local guide. When talking about computer files relating to Google Maps, you might come across the file extension KMZ, which really stands for the zipped version of KML. If you check Wikipedia, you will find out that KML stands for ‘Keyhole Markup Language, an XML notation for expressing geographic annotation and visualization within two-dimensional maps or three-dimensional earth browsers’. Well, basically: files with data for use on Google Maps or Google Earth. The ‘Markup Language’ part in Keyhole Markup Language might be quite clear, well at least if you know a bit about computers and coding, but what is ‘Keyhole’? Well, it’s quite simple: Keyhole is the name of the company that Google purchased in 2004, and that led them to eventually develop Google Maps. If you’re interested in the complete story on that, there’s an excellent book by Bill Kilday, who used to work for Keyhole at that moment, and the title of the book is ‘Never Lost Again’. I’ll include info on that in the shownotes.

Jan Van Haver 6:48
With April Fool’s Day approaching rapidly, I also have to mention – and that’s then fun fact number 4 – games launched and available on Maps for a brief period of time; that’s what the team usually does. In 2019 it was Snake, which was a game very popular in the era when 95% of all mobile phone users had a Nokia with Snake installed on it. For younger listeners: ask your parents (or grandparents). In 2018 it was the game Where’s Waldo or Where’s Wally, where you have to find particular characters in very crowded pictures. This one was really popular among local guides, especially because it also included a badge that you can could earn on your Google Maps profile. In 2017 it was Miss PacMan, well PackMaps it was called then. So I’m wondering now what’s planned for this year. Hopefully we will soon find out.

Jan Van Haver 7:57
Of course, and that’s number five, the development team is having loads of fun all the time. Well, not literally all of the time, I guess – they will also have deadlines from time to time. But sometimes they come up with so called easter eggs in Maps, and obviously also in other Google products. I’ll include in the shownotes a link to a full list of all easter eggs in Google products. Some of those in Maps include adding a special mode of transportation for specific routes. For example, in Scotland, near Loch Ness, you could select a monster as mode of transportation. So you could either choose for a car, walk, or take a monster. Nice one. At Buckingham Palace there was the Royal carriage as mode of transportation. Those are of no longer visible at the moment, I’m afraid. But others are still visible, for example Pegman changing in shape on certain locations. For example: if you move to Legoland, then Pegman will change into a Lego figurine; near Loch Ness – yes, Loch Ness again – the Pegman will change into a monster. A green one, no idea if that’s correct – I’ve never seen the actual monster myself, and I guess neither have you. In that same mystery, or conspiracy context: move to Area 51 in Nevada, USA, and Pegman will turn into a UFO. A nice one is also in the area of the Galapagos Islands where Pegman turns into a mermaid.

Jan Van Haver 9:50
We’re halfway through and moving on to Fun Fact number six. A lot of local guides are very happy with the feedback emails and notifications they get about the performance of the pictures, reviews and places they added on Maps. Especially since there is an Achievements section again on Connect, the official platform, you see a lot of people happy about this, but also, of course, on social media this is being mentioned quite a lot of times. There are however local guides with really crazy, jaw- dropping numbers. Or how else would you describe a local guide with more than 500,000 points? And there’s at least one local guide who is a billionaire when it comes to views. So the pictures he uploaded have gathered more than 1 billion views! Friend of the podcast and guest in episode number 15 (which was an episode with tips about pictures on Maps) Torben from Germany is very much on his way to also get there, the 1 billion views, I mean.

Jan Van Haver 11:04
Talking about points and views, we get to number seven: on August 20, 2019 I received 2565 points in one single day. Not that I uploaded so many pictures that day or I was horribly bored and decided to write an incredible amount of reviews, or made hundreds of edits that day. Well, to be honest, when I was close to reaching level 10, there might actually have been days with hundreds of edits, but that’s another story. Actually, those 2565 points was the number shown to me in the ‘Progress’ page you see when you click the counter icon in the top right corner of the page behind the button ‘Contribute more’ on the Contribute page. So: go to ‘Contribute’, there’s a button ‘Contribute more’ and then in the top right corner, you will see a counter; click that and that opens a Progress page. For a while that did not work properly, as it was only updating once every week or so. Hence, on August 20, 2019 I received the accumulated number of 2565 points. I made the screenshots and will share it in the shownotes.

Jan Van Haver 12:32
A similar thing happened on January 25th, 2020. That’s number eight. That day, I apparently made 2500 edits – so that would have been 12,500 points in a single day. Really, what happened is that I got 2500 notifications. In the process of switching to the new layout of the local guides Maps profile, something went terribly wrong with the notifications. So what was happening really is that I received, again and again, the same notifications about certain older edits and the count just kept going until 2500. Also, there I made some screenshots and I’ll share the last one of them in the shownotes (which says 2107, but it went on for a while after that). But there were apparently even worse cases: I read about one local guide who received non less than 9000 notifications in a single day.

Jan Van Haver 13:36
Okay, two more to go. Here’s fun fact number nine. In the course of the Local Guides Clean The Map project (#LGCTM), a project initiated earlier this year, which is partially about removing old places on Maps – please go back to the previous episode, number 19, for all details, or check the post on Connect, there’s a link to it in the shownotes, of course, or you can just find it if you search for Local Guides Clean The Map or abbreviated #LGCTM. So in the course of that I have come across some outdated information that should have been removed, so to speak ‘a while ago’. The most amazing example there is a point of interest that should have been removed at least 15 years ago. It was a bank in Belgium called Mercator which belonged to a chain that has been taken over by ING, the bank, in 2004. So that’s more than 15 years ago, and the place was still on Maps. I was actually able to remove two points of interest there as Mercator was first taken over, or rebranded as Record Bank. But then a couple of years ago, that brand also disappeared and gave way to another brand. So, both Mercator and Record Bank were still there – and I marked them both as permanently closed of course.

Jan Van Haver 15:07
And then, finally, number 10: I was never a level 5 local guide. “Oh my god”, you might be wondering, “did this guy cheat? Did he find a quick route to skip a level?” No, of course not. Loyal listeners know that I always emphasize that it is crucial to stick to the rules and not attempt to take any shortcuts (listen back to episode number 6 if you want to find out more about this; it was the episode called ‘Breaking the rules’). So what did happen? When I joined the Local Guides program in 2016, there were actually only five levels of Local Guides. And after a while, I had reached level 4 and was working towards getting to level 5. But then overnight, somewhere in 2017 if I remember well, they changed the level system from 5 levels to 10 levels. But at the same time the number of points you receive for certain types of contributions was also changed. And this was retrofitted, so to say, to the contributions you already made. So for example reviews: I think reviews was previously 5 points and then jumped to 10, and the longer ones to 20. So, for the contributions, for the reviews I had already written at that point, those extra points were also granted and this caused me to all of a sudden have enough points to qualify for level 6. So I jumped from 4 to 6 overnight without ever having been level 5.

Vanessa P. 16:45
It’s time for some news.

Jan Van Haver 16:49
Yes, indeed, we do have some news items again – also this episode. From time to time I report on Connect about new categories that are available to local guides for use on Maps. One of the returning topics there is new categories for car brands. And finally, it’s becoming clear what is behind it. On Google My Business it’s now mentioned in the help section (and I’ll link to that in the shownotes) that car dealers can create multiple entries on Maps: one for the car dealership as such, so with the general category ‘car dealer’, and one separate for each brand that they are selling, so the branded categories ‘Volkswagen dealer’, ‘Mercedes dealer’ – stuff like that. It’s only for dealers of new cars, not for a second and car dealers. By the way, if you want to keep track of the categories, the category changes that are happening on maps, I’ve also created a kind of collective post on all those category changes on Connect. Of course I will link also to that in the shownotes.

Jan Van Haver 18:01
The next news item is also Google My Business related, as the official Google My business Twitter account announced early March that they are now actively checking uploaded pictures and videos. The tweet literally said: “We’ve made changes to our photo and video content policy. All photos and videos are now reviewed before publication”. No doubt that revision is mostly done by algorithms, but still, it’s a very good move, as it should, of course, improve the overall quality of what gets published on Maps. I’ll link in the show notes to an article on that topic on the website Search Engine Roundtable, which was also the source for the car dealer thing we mentioned before. And both stories were kindly pointed out to me by fellow local guide and friend of the podcast Jeroen Mourik.

Jan Van Haver 18:59
And finally, There’s some news about Local Guides Connect, the official platform. When you go into the dedicated page for a section, so Photography, or Travel or Local stories – which is very popular right now, because of the Connect Live application posts that have to be posted there; by the way, in case you still want to apply, there is still time, but the deadline deadline is getting close by: the 30th of March. So on those pages for the sections, there are now two extra buttons. One is called ‘Select language’ and that allows you to only see posts written in a specific language. That’s very nice and something quite a few communities were searching for, or asking for. The other button is called ‘Unanswered’ and that’s a very neat one for local guides that like to help others on Connect as it shows all posts in that section where no replies have been given yet. So those posts where another local guide might still have a question that you perhaps could answer. Go check out those buttons on the Connect pages.

Jan Van Haver 20:14
And that’s all I have for this episode. Do please get in touch with me if you have any questions, comments or remarks. You can send an email to letsguidepodcast@gmail.com or reach out to me on Twitter where you can find me as LocalGuidesGuru. You can of course also find me on Connect with my real name @JanVanHaver, and I also have a blog that you find under janvanhaver.com, and the shownotes for this episodes and others can be found on http://www.letsguidepodcast.com. Thank you very much for listening to episode number 20 and I hope you will continue listening to the next episode, which will be an interview episode again with a very special guest – at least if we manage to find a free spot in her quite hectic schedule to do the interview. So, fingers crossed and bye bye for now.

Transcribed by https://otter.ai

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