Google Maps is the application I use the most in my daily life. Whether I need a direction, looking for a place to eat, fix my phone…. The influence of Google Maps goes beyond mere navigation – it has also became a key platform for local businesses, where reviews can make or break their success. Whether it’s choosing a dining destination (sometimes right in front of the restaurant itself) or meticulously selecting a hotel, it’s evident that reviews on Google Maps play a pivotal role in decision-making. In recent years, Google has quietly introduced social media features, but more recently, these changes have become quite noticeable and might impact the user experience within the app.
My first contributions were made 7 years ago, prompted by a rather innocent push notification from Google Maps: ‘How was restaurant/hotel XX?’ I would then add some photos with a tap, and my opinion was published. They followed up with some ‘magic internet points’ via email—lots of views with relatively low effort. I was hooked:
Because I like to see how my contributions impacted other people (I know, ego…), I noticed that Google Maps has slowly and silently added and experimented with social network features over the past few years. They’ve silently released many social features, including profiles where you can see other people’s contributions.
In the past few months, I’ve noticed a stronger push on their new social network features, with the application undergoing quite a few changes.
Adding Social Graph
They’ve added the following features to the home screen:
- The “Latest” popip displays what has happened in the area you are checking.
- Reviews from people I’ve chosen to “follow.”
- Reviews from a “Specialist” in a particular area or topic that might interest me. For instance, when I was exploring a mountain area, I came across a review from a “hiking specialist.” (check the screenshot)
- If I haven’t followed a profile, there’s a button to follow that person.
- You can then scroll down to see many other reviews.
More aggressive push notifications
I’ve also started to receive more frequent push notifications on people following me, or my reviews reaching some sort of level of engagement:
They provide users with profiles and have a suggestion tab where you can discover other users you might be interested in following. Your profile is assigned a URL (although you can’t choose it yet), and you can share it publicly.
Users can create curated list, for themselve, or for others! I do myself follow some of those lists and they appears on my Google map application at my will:
Smart things Google Maps is doing
- Google Maps has a separate website where they allow “local guides” to interact: https://www.localguidesconnect.com/. This is happening outside of Google Maps (as of today). It will be interesting how they’ll change (or keep) how users interact with each others.
- Social networks feature had a really slow release pace until recently. I believe they’re tracking how well each feature is performing and using the Local Guide community / users bahavior to gauge their reactions to changes. It would be quite risky for them to push drastic changes and upset/lose current users that might not be interested in those features.
- Instagram and Facebook can turn into dating apps. I think the Google Maps team is trying to avoid that, with some details like not allowing users to “zoom in” on profile pictures.
Improvements they could do
- Not everyone would want to see these social features. The option to opt-out of the social network features would be greatly appreciated by those using it solely for its main use case (navigation and finding locations).
- Google Maps has a huge impact on local businesses. Combating fake reviews isn’t an easy task and can painfully hurt businesses unfairly. They should probably try to use some sort of signal/verification to give more weight or not to reviews.
Over the past few years, Google cautious, silent, and ’not in your face’ feature releases of social features in Maps demonstrate their mindfulness in not disrupting current users and their desire to retain their daily user base. Will this final push make Google Maps become a real social network that is genuinely useful and social? Or will it end up in the Google graveyard?
- I wrote 700+ restaurants reviews on Google Maps all around the world - Follow me on Google Maps!