To Map or Connect

Cherry Blossoms in Kamakura, Japan

[written for the expert old timers]

To Map

People start out using Google Maps on their phones to look for things, search for directions, read up on info about destinations, restaurants, shops, analyze reviews, check out the photos, etc. That is the primary purpose, and passion, of opening up the Google Maps app – to see, experience, and find information about the real physical world around us.

They see the open text box in the app and start to contribute back by adding their own reviews, their own photos, their own info. After some initial fears and shyness, they write more and more. They are now Contributors, and you might have heard of a 1% rule that explains that in online communities, possibly only 1% of members contribute, while the other 99% consume the content. Did you get an email saying you are in the top 1% or 10% of contributors in your area? =)

All my Google Local Guides friends love to contribute, and this is our passion/hobby/enjoyment. We write about the food we liked, the places we disliked. It’s almost like a bizarre form of blogging. We have our different individual obsessions with roads, streetview, castles, pizzerias, accessibility, vegan-friendly restaurants, sustainability, train stations, rest stops, and much more.

But there are so many reasons why each of us open the app, and I continuously see how it brings different meaning to different people in the world. To Map, is the entryway into this world, and into Local Guides.

Sometimes you might also realize that after writing a thousand reviews, making hundreds of edits, that there’s still so much more to do! There’s a never-ending number of businesses, and these close down and new ones open all the time. I can’t fix it all alone, I can’t be everywhere, nor do I know every business.

To Connect

Somewhere along the way, we discover the Local Guides program. It’s not very strongly advertised, but it’s always been there – the little orange circles and stars on people’s profiles, the subtle naming inside Maps app. Google Maps caters to many users and we are but one category of them.

So we find our way to and read about it. We browse the meetups page (though probably disappointed by the content there and the confusing UI), we somehow also navigate onto, into a new bizarre forum world of ‘crazies’. It’s a huge culture shock, you find posts about people talking about their city, their travels, their holidays, their country food. Suddenly it’s become like a travel forum. Maybe you’re also wondering, what’s Local Guides, am I supposed to be a tour guide now? Are these volunteers to be free tour guides?

You lurk around for some time, reading, trying to figure out what people are writing out, who is writing, what topics interest out. You probably never figure out how to properly navigate this labyrinth, but you get the occasional update email that draws you back in. You finally write your intro into the monthly mega thread.

Someone replies to your first post with a welcome and a smiley face :). They show you where to share your post and you read some other interesting ones. You read about people who drive around and take 20km of streetview imagery, people who take 360 photos with drones, countries with a big local community and >100 meetups. Google sends you some emails celebrating your posts, views and timeline. Have you covered the distance to the moon yet? I’m on my way to Mars apparently (virtually).

You start to Connect with people in your community. This could be your interest group – streetview, photography, accessibility etc. Or it could be locals in your city in Lagos, Mumbai, Hong Kong etc. You see what they do, what is possible, what kind of tools (and power) you actually have access to, meet them, have some drinks and most importantly share your frustrations about the Maps app and submissions getting rejected. They say nothing brings people together like a common enemy. =)

You pick up a new wind and level up two levels. That felt great and you look out for more places to contribute to. You’re a Connector now. (yeah I made up that name). You interact with others, you build connections, you are an active member of a local community.

To Influence

I believe that one of the primary objectives of creating, and sharing a community around LG, is to encourage people to contribute, show them that their contributions make a difference, have an impact on others, and also let them learn how to improve their contribution quality and find new ways of contributing more data. Someone who sees their view counts might start to write longer and more complete reviews with more details. Someone who learns how to use the edit buttons might level up from writing reviews to adding missing businesses.

In turn, these collaborative global pooling of knowledge helps makes Google Maps a better app for them, for me, and everyone else.

Some of us are obviously expert users who know the app inside out, with a ton of contributions, but perhaps still working towards that Master badge or elusive level 10. It does becomes a grind sometimes.

Go talk to people, newbies, new joiners, go inspire them, share with them a new function they didn’t know about. Google’s team does the ra-ra big events like Connect Live, local Connect Live, YouTube videos, email newsletters. We are the real faces that show up at the meetup at the corner bar or pizzeria down the street, who bring snacks to the picnic and somehow finds money to print out T-shirts and pins, who waves the little orange flag to lead the way and slings the LG backpack and orange logo through airport x-rays around the world.

The most important contribution we could do right now, is to inspire and encourage others. There are no points in the system for this, but it’s probably one of the most fun activities. For lack of a better word at the moment, I’m going to say you’re an Influencer now. Your words and actions have an outsized impact on others and generate more positive actions that you could possible do alone.

Some of us are also community builders. I know people agonizing over the loss of Google+, because it was a super effective platform for bringing together a local LG community, and we had so many members there. We worry about what other platform to use, whether Connect is effective and easy to use, whether we are able to reach out and get the word out to new members, and how to attract people etc. (Thinking on this, I think we’re a little bonkers.)

To Have Fun

But you might get tired. It’s takes alot of energy to talk to people, to being a Connector, Influencer. It takes time to build the community, help out others and all that. It takes you away from other things. I know people who drop out, they get busy with life, or it gets dull.

I have often times worried that asking contributors to be connectors or influencers doesn’t happen naturally. The interest and passion of that person might not align. Someone might love Maps, but really dislike or get tired of Connect. Sometimes I encourage people to apply to Connect Live, but I’m not sure it really appeals to them, or the barrier still feels too far away.

So don’t forget to still just be that simple old Contributor in you. Go back to your Google Maps, and explore the world.

Many people are working on, and worry about, their Connect Live 2019 application right now. They are thinking how to make their video, what to say, what have they done. So am I. Don’t forget to just be yourself, just do what you enjoy, don’t worry too much.

To Map or Connect

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