How Google Maps Is Slowly Becoming the Next Big Content Platform

Sah Kilic

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Photo credit: Mitchell Luo

Can you make money from Google Maps? This question will confuse the majority of Google Maps users, but for some, it’s a significant bet that they’re hoping pays off.

Google Maps is an essential tool for it’s more than 1 billion monthly active users. Lesser known is the immense size of its userbase —over 120 million contributors —that you depend on before trying that new Indian restaurant.

Every rating, review, or photo you see on the platform has been posted by one of those users, but not all content is created equal — to put it bluntly, most of it is terrible.

The fact is that we’ve all left (or read) a 4-star rating with a lackluster caption reading, “it was good.”

In my case, all it took was my phone camera, some lousy lighting, and two seconds of self-control at every meal for me to get a million views last year.

https://img.particlenews.com/image.php?url=3NXs0b_0XpYUqqZ00Screenshot from my Google Maps Stats.

But just how there are a few good videos for every thousand bad ones on YouTube — Maps is the same deal.

You’ll get quality content, and you’ll get crap.

The questions for users becomes:

Why put in the effort? Why make it good? What’s in it for me?”

Google local guides

Just like Reddit, Google has a point system. You earn points by posting reviews and photos, but unlike Reddit, they base it on quantity, not quality.

And of course, the only content type is the review — no memes or AMAs.

https://img.particlenews.com/image.php?url=4Q3wQF_0XpYUqqZ00Adapted from Google Support.

These imaginary internet points, much like the Reddit karma, stack up until you earn badges, and your review is more likely to be shown at the top of a place through a combination of how recent it is and your local guide status, among other factors.

And with the number of contributors that Maps has, it’s safe to say that Google has nailed this gamification aspect of their platform.

Essentially, they can crowdsource content from an army of contributors that are happy to win a reputation in the form of badges.

But this only goes so far.

Three ingredients of a quality content platform

Asuccessful content-based platform provides three main benefits to a user and therefore relies on these benefits to grow in popularity — and it doesn’t have to provide all of them:

1. Visibility
2. Ownership
3. Compensation

Consider YouTube, Twitter, Facebook, Twitch, Medium, Quora: they offer visibility through a user base. You can define yourself through a brand and profile, and your compensation is either money or attention, which in some instances, leads to further opportunities. These are what make the platforms worthwhile.

On Google Maps, ownership, and compensation in the form of both attention and money are the missing ingredients.

I’ve amassed close to 2 million views, and yet people have no idea who I am and what my schtick is — this is the problem.

But it’s an issue that they’ve just addressed via adding profile support.

The switch to profiles

In late 2019, Google demoed the new Maps profiles, and these silently got released in early 2020 to the rest of us.

https://img.particlenews.com/image.php?url=3PJHRi_0XpYUqqZ00Screenshot of my Google Maps Profile.

With this update, you can follow contributors, see their reviews, and scroll through their content. The website Reddit has a similar setup.

Lessons from Reddit’s rise

Reddit used to be an anonymous forum where people judged content by how good it was — it was a commodity. There was no branding, no profiles, no reputation — people would upvote what was helpful or entertaining.

Reddit’s switch to better account pages meant that people could follow individuals, contributors could post directly to their profile, pin their best content, and even connect their Twitter profile — they could own the attention.

https://img.particlenews.com/image.php?url=2GUGoP_0XpYUqqZ00A Popular Reddit User

And they could do this by linking out to their content even before the profile feature got revamped.

What Google Maps is getting wrong

The problem with a Google Maps profile is that you can’t link out, the vast majority don’t follow accounts, local profiles aren’t promoted, and the feature is just a capability rather than a well-designed element that’s pivotal to the platform.

Google Maps has a bizarre and outstanding reach, but you don’t gain much by contributing because you have zero ownership of that attention.

Although, they’re in the perfect position to make this switch. Google could theoretically become a real content platform overnight. A place where contributors can link out, the trustworthy and upvoted guides could establish a brand, and users could find beneficial and in-depth reviews of a location.

It’s only a few changes away — and at any time, Google could decide that’s where they want to take it. But will they?

Google Maps: A content platform

People follow and eagerly wait for their favorite content creator’s next video, article, comic, album, or insert anything that requires effort — why wouldn’t this be the same for their preferred reviewer?

If I’m a local guide based in Bangkok, Tokyo, Paris, wouldn’t it be nice for users around the world to find me on Google’s own mapping platform and get a local’s recommendations?

And I’m not so naive to think this is an easy business, software, and UX fix, but it’s hard not to see the potential. A better editor, rich text capability, media integrations — it’s only a few steps away from allowing a broader tool kit for better content.

And this could lead to answers for questions that contributors have been asking for a long time.

Monetization

Any mention, question, or plea for a way to earn with the Local Guide Program are met with a generic response saying how the program is entirely voluntary — this seems like a nonsense excuse.

YouTube brings in $15.5 billion a year and has a system that pays content creators. Maps’ ad revenue, built off of the backs of these contributors, isn’t insignificant either. One analyst that had a lower estimate of what Google Maps makes in a year predicted $3.5 billion was from ads.

And we established that most of the 120 million contributors are only giving a review or two here and there.

The dedicated are far a few, and yet will churn out the highest quality reviews that include price lists, quality comparison, and more — these contributors should be rewarded. And yes, easier said than done, a massive feat, and this thinking doesn’t take into account the significant investment and effort from Google to build and maintain such a platform.

But they’ve done it with YouTube, Quora’s just started, and Medium has been doing it with a “mere” $2 million a month.

Google could make it work.

But even outside the realm of money, they could make other changes enabling the platform to shift in favor of content creators.

The Profile

Let people capitalize on their contributions. It can be as simple as creating the tools for a reviewer to say, “Hey if you like this, here’s my other stuff.”

  • Allow a link in the profile that gets displayed with every review.
  • Allow integrations for Twitter/Instagram/YouTube.

Bring the profile to the forefront. Let people discover a reviewer obsessed with finding the best doughnut in the world, the one that’s visiting every temple, or the one that’s fair but just in their reviews.

The platform already has a dedicated section for users to browse places.

And promoting power-contributors’ profiles here could be relatively easy — it’s called the Explore Tab, and you’ve likely seen it.

https://img.particlenews.com/image.php?url=071ydI_0XpYUqqZ00Google Maps Explore Tab

Incorporating user’s reviews, or even powering a video component through YouTube integration, seems like something that Google is poised to do perfectly — yes, I’ll admit the wish-list is long.

But that’s the ultimate gamble.

Final thoughts

The steps that Google has taken with Maps in the user interface and contribution system leans towards a move to prioritize user content. The reach they offer is enormous with people all over the world exploring their town or their surroundings.

Many millions of users will use it as a utility, but other massive groups spend significant time exploring — it feels like a newsfeed but in the physical world.

The content creators that contribute the most are betting that this move towards profiles and more in-depth input will start to have a material benefit for them — I sure am.

Back in the day, creators on platforms like Vine, Snapchat, or even now on TikTok were okay with posting and having fun — even with no compensation.

But there’s always an unspoken gamble that the viewership can lead to something more, and this is where Google Maps is at this very moment.

The question becomes — what will be their next move?

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If you want a tour guide to everything mindset and digital, I'm your guy. I cover self-improvement, travel, entrepreneurship, startups, marketing, technology, and media. Find more of my stuff at https://sah.substack.com/

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