Being able to share your insights and photos with others is one of the best things about social media but there are also some downsides. Constantly checking your phone for likes, comments and shares can become addictive real fast which is why my favorite place to post online isn’t Facebook, Twitter or even TikTok, it’s Google Maps.
In an update back in 2015, the search giant added a new program called Local Guides to the platform. Unlike other things that Google has killed off over the years, Local Guides is still going strong. Have you ever searched for “food near me” in Google Maps? Then you’ve seen pictures taken by a Local Guide and you might have even seen one of my photos.
I started contributing to Google Maps five years ago as I found it more fun than playing Pokemon Go but I kept at it as it gave me an excuse to go to new places, try new things and take loads of photos. Since Google Maps is more of a one-sided social network, I can easily share my photos knowing there won’t be any mean comments and that they may actually help people, instead of giving them a bad case of FOMO.
While you probably haven’t even considered becoming a Local Guide on Google Maps, this is what I’ve learned from the experience and who knows, it might just be your next hobby.
A great excuse to take photos and explore the world around you
If you have one of the best Android phones, then you’ve likely gotten a notification asking if you want to add your recent photos to Google Maps. The first time I saw it, I figured why not as I was living in South Korea at the time and wanted to help my fellow expats find cool new places around Seoul.
I had already become something of a smartphone photographer as I really enjoyed taking photos and sharing them with my friends and family. Being a Local Guide on Google Maps was the obvious progression, especially since my Dad is an actual tour guide in Washington DC.
Unlike foodies posting pics on Yelp, I'm more interested in helping others get the lay of the land. What does the place look like from the street? How’s the seating? Is there any interesting décor? What’s the overall vibe like? A picture is worth a thousand words and in my photos for Google Maps, I always try to incorporate a few wide shots to let people know what they’re getting into when heading somewhere new.
Have you ever been really hungry and gone to a restaurant? Even if you’re there with one of the most interesting people you know, you will likely pull out your smartphone and just start scrolling to pass the time until your food arrives. I know as I used to do the same thing. Now though, I examine my surroundings looking for potential pics. Even when I go to one of my favorite restaurants, I still look for things I might have missed.
While one of the best camera phones can certainly help if you want to be a Local Guide on Google Maps, your photos are still beneficial to others when deciding where they want to go. Also, as Google doesn’t charge you to use Google Maps, you’re helping to improve the service by contributing.
Gamification keeps me coming back
Going to unfamiliar places and trying new restaurants can be a lot of fun but it’s easy to fall into a routine and return to the same spots time and time again. Since becoming a Local Guide, I now push myself to continue exploring the world around me and to check out new places. Fortunately, Google Maps rewards you for this with points to help you level up and badges to show off your progress.
Just last week for instance, I hit a new milestone on Google Maps when my photos reached 4 million views. Although I’m still a ways off from earning my Expert Photographer badge, I’m getting closer with each new photo I post. However, it isn’t always about adding photos and writing reviews. Sometimes, Google asks me to answer questions about places I’ve been for points. I’m currently at Local Guide level 6 and if I want to reach level 10 one day, every point helps.
Although Google used to give out a number of free perks like cloud storage space on Google Drive, these have since been scrapped. One thing the company hasn’t done away with yet is its annual meeting for Local Guides called Connect Live. While it was postponed for the past two years due to the pandemic, it could make a return next year. However, in order to get invited, you need to create a one-minute video, make a list on Google Maps and be a level 5 Local Guide or higher.
I have been to Google’s headquarters in Mountain View, California before but I only got to wander around the campus and the parking lot. Being able to go to Connect Live helped inspire me to reach level 6 in the first place but now that a few years have passed, it may end up being postponed indefinitely.
Even if that is the case, I plan to keep taking photos when I’m out and about and posting them on Google Maps. It gives me something to do and over the years, it has helped me hone my photography skills. If you’re bored and looking for an inexpensive hobby that can also help people, it just might be for you too.
Read next: How to use Street View on Google Maps.