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Google's Local Guides program: Get free stuff and nifty trip summaries

Derek Walter | Feb. 18, 2016
If you're willing to hand over a bunch of information to Google, you'll get some nice freebies and a daily recap of all your travels.

Google is never shy about dangling a carrot filled with freebies to attract more people to a service.

It’s not always worth the bargain, especially if you’re sensitive about how much information you’re handing over to the tech giant. Yet Local Guides is one program that might be worth a look if you like to travel or check out the newest eateries in town. This also gives you another outlet besides Yelp to rate your favorites or call out those who offer terrible service.

The Local Guides program offers you free Google Drive storage and the promise of insider access if you’re willing to put in the time. It’s actually pretty fun to build a social presence on Google Maps and boost your ranking, all while making Maps more accurate and reliable. 

Earning your stripes

The Local Guides program reels you in with a quick boost up the ladder. There are five levels, and you ascend in ranking by earning points for reviews, photos, adding/editing places, and answering questions. It’s pretty easy to make your way up to level three, which gives you a snazzy little icon next to your profile to indicate you’re a bonafide Local Guide.

A Local Guide icon will appear next to your profile image to show that your review is worthy of trust.

The first couple of levels are pretty sparse with benefits, offering only a monthly newsletter and invites to an occasional Google Hangout. Google details all the benefits for each particular level on this help page.

The goodies really come in when you hit level four. That’s where you get terabyte of Google Drive storage for two years and an annual mystery thank-you gift. With level five you’re supposed to get proprietary information about what’s coming with Maps and a possible invite to a Local Guides Summit. My goal is to push my way there to find out how special any of these rewards actually turn out to be.

How to climb the ladder quickly

The general idea is pretty simple: add reviews, photos, and new locations in Google Maps. Google wants reviews and star rankings to be fair, so don’t go overboard if someone burned your cheeseburger.

Not surprisingly, you’ll earn your stripes faster if you embrace a few of Google’s other services. Be sure to turn on Google Photos and enable Location History in Maps, you’ll start to see some rather cool (yet slightly creepy) integration of your photos everywhere you’ve been with your phone.

Good news: your entire location history is available in Google Maps! Bad news: well, you can probably figure it out.

Photos will appear along any of the places Google thinks you’ve stopped at. It actually makes a neat trip summary for vacations, as you can see where you went each day and check out what photos you took with your phone. There’s potential here to integrate this further into the stories that Google Photos automatically creates from your image gallery.


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