Google hosted its second Local Guides Summit for the people who contribute content about businesses in their local areas to Google Maps and Search earlier this week. It brought together 150 top contributors from 62 countries to the San Francisco Bay Area. In 2016, there were 75 attendees from 37 countries.
Last year, there were 5 million Local Guides around the world. Remarkably, the number has now grown to 50 million — a 10x increase in one year.
To attend the Summit, Local Guides needed have attained at least “level 5” (out of 10) and submit an application that included a 1-minute video. A level 5 is someone who has 500 points from making various types of local content and data contributions to Google Maps: ratings, reviews, images, video and so on.
Luiz André Barroso, vice president of engineering on Google Maps, delivered the opening Summit keynote, which was essentially an appreciation for the efforts of Local Guides. He discussed the ways in which Guides were helping other users and their communities.
After the keynote, I got to speak with Laura Slabin, head of the Local Guides program. We discussed the massive scale of the program and some of its mechanics. In just a few years, it has become both huge and critical for Google, because of the growing demands of mobile users for accurate and enhanced content.
Slabin explained that while the largest number of Local Guides was in the US, the next three markets in order were India, Brazil and Indonesia. We also talked at some length about the motivations of Local Guides, who are incentivized and rewarded for their contributions.
She pointed out, however, that most of the Guides are motivated less by rewards than by other concerns and passions. They’re committed to making information about their communities better and more accurate.
“They have tremendous passion and energy,” explained Slabin. “They’re giving back to their communities.” Indeed, I met a Guide from Indonesia at the Summit who spoke about feeling personal responsibility for her community and her desire to ensure its information on Google was correct. There’s a quality of altruism, volunteerism — even activism — about many of these people.
In many developing countries, Google faces a “last mile problem” in getting accurate address information and related local content. Millions of Local Guides are manually addressing that. (Google is also using machine learning and AI now to improve Maps.)
Slabin pointed out that there are 700,000 new places being added to Google Maps each month by Local Guides and 95 percent of these are outside US. But Local Guides don’t just provide data and content, they provide product feedback and suggestions to Google. They’re essentially superusers and a tremendous resource for Google.
Local Guides also play a role in Google’s new Q&A feature. Questions about places and local businesses can be answered by business owners (provided they’ve claimed their GMB profiles) and Local Guides as well. Questions are sent to multiple Guides to answer, along with business owners. Slabin told me that the “median response time is 20 minutes.”
Beyond the daily mechanics of improving maps and local search, Google has built a global community of sorts. Guides meet up locally and interact online around the world. Local Guides could be deployed to do other things as well — educate small business owners and get them to claim GMB profiles, for example. Many ideas come to mind.
Local Guides are not a “sales force,” but they are a very powerful in-market resource for Google that could go well beyond correcting address information and uploading photos. And many of the guides seem eager for a larger role and greater engagement.