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Fun with Google Maps - Confessions of a local guide.

Updated on January 30, 2017

Travellers Tools

I have always been fascinated with travel and have spent many hours, documenting holidays with maps, notebooks, photos and postcards. In particular I am fascinated by chain stores where an old building has been adapted to a new use or no old building is available so a brand new design is used. Coffee chains like Costa's and Starbucks are particulatly prone to this variety of style and a miriad of different stores exist including outlets in malls and motorway services. Modern technology has transformed our ability to document this landscape like never before, as it has with so many other things.

The change for me, started around 2000 with the beginning of digital photography and access to information online. I bought my first digital camera and I had a windows 1998 computer. But the quantum change was with my first smartphone that allowed me to find my way without a physical map and with my computer in my pocket !!!

Today my smartphone allows me to take photos, keep notes and plot maps. In fact the only paper that remains is that I still like to collect a few postcards. One has to retain a link with the past after all.


Places of Interest - Ty Gwyn Hotel

Ty Gwyn Hotel - Betws-y-Coed
Ty Gwyn Hotel - Betws-y-Coed | Source

Google Maps

As I started adding places to Google maps, I noticed that points were awarded for reviews, photos and for adding new missing places. Reaching a certain number of points moved your status up from a level 3 guide at 50 points to level 5 at 500 points. The big incentive was the gift of 100gb of cloud storage at the 200 point level. I have always craved free cloudspace because I keep a copy of everything on the cloud, so this really pushed me forward.

Google Map - Spotlight Location

The Yacht Inn - Penzance

The Yacht Inn - Penzance
The Yacht Inn - Penzance | Source

From User to Local Guide

I am not exactly certain when it happened, but sometime during early 2016 I started taking photos of everywhere I went. At least every place that served food or provided accomodation. I started with the main places like a significant restaurant or a fine hotel. But then I noticed two facts, the view count on my photos was higher on chain restaurants like Mcdonalds, and in particular indoor photos showing the layout. I still cannot completely account for this, other than for every one person visiting an upscale restaurant, there are probably 50 visiting Mcdonalds. While most people would laugh at a review or photo of a Mcdonalds, I had tapped into, well if not a gold mine, maybe a copper one.

Nevertheless the floodgates were open and now, whether it be the Ritz or the local dive, I take a photo of the outside, the inside and the food where possible. I also do a review of every place whether its a two line entry for Mcdonalds or a longer one for a unique place to eat.

I checked with Google on facebook and they responded that they are happy with multiple pictures of the same place as long as its not ten of the outside! People really are interested in what the inside is like and what you are eating.

A Photo of Mcdonalds expressly for Google Maps

Mcdonalds Kidderminster
Mcdonalds Kidderminster | Source

Google Local Guide level 5

I achieved 500 points last October and became a Google Maps Local Guide Level 5. There is no compensation for this work but I enjoy the tasks for many reasons. I reached one million views this weekend January 28th 2017 and that was the incentive for this article.

1. It is very much an extension of my interests. The app keeps a track of my daily movements and acts like an online diary of my life that only I can see.

2. I am able to clean up errors that other people have made. Good examples are spelling, location, duplication and missing information.

3. I have 100gb of free online cloud space which makes storage a lot easier for my photos.

4. The satisfaction that my photos and reviews help others to make decisions of where to stay and eat.

Online Diaries and blogging

Do you keep a track of your life events online ?

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Further Information

Contributing to Google Maps may be something you would be interested in doing yourself. If you are that way inclined, then I warn you it can be addictive. Using Google maps is the first thing I do when I sit down in a restaurant. It can annoy family members, it definitely moves other social media to a secondary status and it does take some effort to do it right.

If you are interested, don't try and be all things. I strictly stay with hotels and restaurants. Other places of interest I leave to other people whether castles or bookshops. Also I have a strict rule that I must have visited a place for me to review or take a photo. I do not just randomly walk down a high street taking photos. It would become too overwhelming and all consuming, plus a little weird.

Besides, you have to leave some things for other people to have fun with and contribute....

Exotic Locations - Canada

Tim Hortons - Scomberg Ontario
Tim Hortons - Scomberg Ontario | Source

Non Local Entries

One of the best parts of this hobby is when you travel further afield and you can add a location 100's or 1000's of miles from your locality. This is a perfectly valid thing to do and adds a twist of the exotic to the mix. I have added Canada and Portugal but sadly I could not recall the locations of places that I had visited in Japan, but I haven't given up hope yet of finding some. Either way, I look forward to adding more foreign places over the next few years.

I was concerned that Google would wonder why a local guide would add a photo of a restaurant from the Algarve, but I did it and it was accepted. So I was within the rules by default.

More Information

Once you have started adding photos and reviews to Google maps you will find yourself exploring the other features.

1 Your points start to collect and you move up the scale towards level 5 quite quickly

2 Google gives you a daily itinerary of places you have visited based on your GPS location in an option called 'your timeline'.

3 Your viewership will grow and you can see which photos are doing well. Google will send you a weekly breakdown and your grand total to date. After a year I have reached 1 million views and 10000 new views per day. Not bad for a remote part of Wales.

Old Photos

The Romilly - Cardiff
The Romilly - Cardiff | Source

The Use of Old Photos

There are no rules about old photos being added to Google maps. At least I have found none to date. I think it is a matter of common sense but for what it is worth I add them with two caveats.

1 I make sure the building still exists and the photo is relevant to how it appears today. I would not add a photo of a Co-op if it had closed and is now a Budgens. I went many times to The Captain's Table in Old Orchard Beach, Maine. When I was adding the photo, I discovered the restaurant had been closed for many years so I did not add it after all.

2 A lot of my old photos were taken before Google even existed. There are a lot of photos of my family standing outside a restaurant. As with all things personal, it is best to err on the side of caution with such photos. Besides, your son doing cartwheels on the lawn outside the restaurant, may not be the best advertisement for the establishment.

An Exception to the Rule

The Roxy - Uxbridge Ontario
The Roxy - Uxbridge Ontario | Source

The Roxy

Just occasionally a building is so unique that I add it to Google Maps anyway. The Roxy is a rare art deco cinema and I love it.

Besides, I am sure they sell snacks in the foyer.....

I hope this article has been useful. If you have any comments or wish to share your experience then please feel free to use the comments box provided below.

Happy Googling......

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    • Larry Rankin profile image

      Larry Rankin 11 months ago from Oklahoma

      Interesting read.