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Is Google Maps Increasingly Becoming a Social Network?

Part of the Google Local Guides Program, Alessio enjoys traveling and discovering new cultures and especially food traditions.

Raise your hand if you've never used Google Maps before. It is one of the most famous Google services people use daily to discover new places, find directions and see reviews and photos of shops, restaurants, and other public places. It is a fully functional app that helps millions of people decide which restaurant to go to when traveling to another city, where to find the nearest gas station, or even just how to get home, looking for the most convenient route or public transport available.

Picture taken at the Google Local Guides Summit 2018 held in San Francisco (CA)

Picture taken at the Google Local Guides Summit 2018 held in San Francisco (CA)

Life Before Reviews

In the past, when services like TripAdvisor and Google Maps didn't exist yet, looking for a restaurant to eat something, the best place to have breakfast or a good beer with friends, could be a real adventure. The risk of going to a place full of rude people who do not want to work, to a tourist trap, or, in general, to a place where one's experience would be bad was very high at the time, as was also high the surprise effect. Today, however, reviews allow us to thoroughly analyze the experience of others before deciding where to go, to reduce the risk of nasty surprises. Although there are people who abuse this opportunity, often discharging their frustration by leaving negative ratings - often for pretentious requests not fulfilled - it is the generality of the reviews that matter, in consideration of the fact that often, those who abuse this tool, are isolated cases.

Google Local Guides & Their Impact on Google Maps Experience

Because of the vast potential of Maps, Google has launched a project aimed at giving credit to users' contributions. The Google Local Guides program allows users to get rewarded with their photos, reviews, and lists of places to go. It also makes them feel part of a great community of people who every day make an impact on Google Maps.

Picture taken at the Google Local Guides Summit 2018 held in San Francisco (CA)

Picture taken at the Google Local Guides Summit 2018 held in San Francisco (CA)

Is Google Maps Becoming a Social Network?

The launch of the Local Guides program shows that Google sees a lot of potential in Maps and does not intend to promote it as a mere application for driving directions. The arrival of several new features further confirms this intent, but who could imagine that Google Maps could even become a social network?

Google Maps will likely never become a complete social platform on par with Facebook. Despite this, it can still carve out an important social niche that revolves around a specific type of content. An example is TikTok, which is not a full-fledged social network but is mainly for posting short videos. Likewise, YouTube is a social platform limited to publishing videos. Instagram is always focused on one type of content (photos and videos). On balance, Facebook remains the most variegated social platform, as it allows you to share various types of content, create and participate in groups, manage pages, and much more. What about Google Maps?

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Local Guides Have a Profile on Google Maps

Looking at some of the newer features of Google Maps, we can find the following:

  • every Google Maps user has a profile, which can be public or private;
  • you can follow other users on Google Maps;
  • you can publish reviews, photos, and posts related to a business and see the contents of the other Local Guides you follow;
  • while it is not currently possible to exchange private messages on Google Maps between users, it is still possible to do so with the listed businesses.
An example of the Google Maps feed, showing the last updates of the people you are following, just as it happens commonly in social network services, otherwise you can see last updates for a specific area and discover new people to follow too.

An example of the Google Maps feed, showing the last updates of the people you are following, just as it happens commonly in social network services, otherwise you can see last updates for a specific area and discover new people to follow too.

All of these are typical functions of a social network. On Google Maps you do not share selfies of your daily life or post stories, but the app is still becoming increasingly social. Google may also want to invest more and more in this social transformation in the future. There are Local Guides with thousands of followers, which could be considered 'local influencers' at all the effects, just as there are people who follow the Local Guides to stay up to date on the best they can find while traveling or in their city. This could be just the beginning of a new social trend.

© 2022 Alessio Ganci

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