Wishlist for Google Maps & Local Guides

…from a Geolocated Photography EnthusiastGoogle Maps thank you message

Now that Panoramio will be shut down, Google has encouraged Panoramio users to move to Google Maps. In their stated plans, Panoramio users’ photos will automatically be copied to a user’s Google Album Archive. They will continue to be shown in Google Maps if they had before. At the same time, Google is really mounting a serious effort with their Local Guides program, in which volunteers add to and improve on the place data for Google Maps.

While Google Maps is an amazing tool in so many ways, it is definitely lacking when compared to Panoramio’s strengths. I am willing to switch over to Google Maps, and upload my geotagged photos there to fill in empty spots much like I did with Panoramio. But, I need to see a few basic improvements before I have enough incentive to do that.

Below, I have my wishlist for improvements to Google Maps for a geolocated photography enthusiast. I limit this list to the things that I think really need adjusted before I’ll start uploading to Google Maps as I did in Panoramio. I’ll even go into some detail on how Google could achieve the adjustments. I am sure there is an extremely small chance someone at Google will see this list and take it to heart, but I felt I needed to say it. If they do make positive adjustments, then will help them gain more high quality contributions for the photo layers in Maps and Earth. They may have need of better photo coverage once Panoramio is fully shuttered.

Google Maps Wishlist

  1. True Location for Photos

  2. Improve User Photos View

  3. Allow for Comments on Photos

  4. Attribution

 

1. True Location for Photos

I would really, really prefer the photos in Google Maps’ photos layer point to their true location on the map, and not just to the “snapped-to” point of interest (POI). I have a few experiences related to this that I’ll relay, though I’m sure there are others. First, for my Panoramio photos that appear in Google Maps currently – I see that they show with a pin at the “snapped-to” POI rather than the correct location. This is when I view those in my contributions area. But, when I view the same photos while just browsing around in Google Maps as a random user, then they show at the correct location. I have also uploaded a few photospheres to Google Maps using Google’s Street View mobile app. With these I see a similar thing. In my contributions, it shows them pinned at the “snapped-to” POI that I chose, but when just viewing the map I see they have the correct location.

Google Maps Taum Sauk in Contributions View

Google Maps Taum Sauk in Photo Layer

Deal Breaker

Unfortunately when I have uploaded directly to Google Maps from within a desktop web browser, it shows the location for that photo as the POI and not the true location in both views. That is deal breaker for me.

Google Maps Lumpy Ridge in Contributions View

Google Maps Lumpy Ridge in Photo LayerI want to see the correct location of photos and I want others to see the correct location for my photos. I plan to upload quite a few photos with points of interest that cover vast areas such as national parks. I can try to be more specific if there is a POI that fits, but otherwise, I can see these photos being stuck showing at just one spot in a big national park. Not showing the true location really kills the usefulness of the photos for exploring the map or planning a trip for example. It just seems inaccurate to me.

The fact that Google shows some photos at the snapped POI in one view but at the true location in another view shows that Google saves both the linked POI and the correct lat/long coordinates. But what about for those that show the location at the POI in both views? Could Google drop the correct lat/long for photos uploaded to Maps? I really hope not. If not, then an interface change could remedy this and is something they should do.

Perhaps Google consciously made the decision to do it this way from the perspective of more urban photos, including those of businesses. Outdoor photos taken from different locations of a business, and even indoor photos, would then fit together all in one spot. If you were trying to learn more about the business, that would make sense. Perhaps they believe that’s where the money is? But it would still be inaccurate if you wanted to see a true view from certain spots.

The problem is, there are small, specific places such as a restaurant where it’s maybe ok for some purposes to have photos taken from different locations jumbled together. They have the same subject. But there are also places where that makes no sense at all. Think of a huge national park with many attractions, many features, and also lots of open space. Having photos of all those thrown in together in one spot does not make sense. The photos can be of completely different things. And there is a spectrum of places that fit somewhere in between. For another example, say POI is the Golden Gate Bridge. Then I would want to see from where each of the photos was taken for the different views of the bridge. If I wanted a jumbled assortment of photos, then I could just do an image search instead.

I really hope for Google to show the correct location in all situations. At minimum, they could just show it for non-urban photos. However, in that hybrid approach, I can see them having some difficulty figuring out when to choose the POI and when to choose the true location.

2. Improve User Photos View

There really must be a better view of your own photos, and photos of others. Compare the view of a user’s photos in Google Maps (above) to what it is in Panoramio (below).
Panoramio ScreenshotRight now in Maps, you only see a narrow vertical single-file sidebar on the left in a desktop web browser. The map and pinned locations for photos makes up most of the window to the right. That is very inefficient for viewing your own photos or those of another user to say the least.

In another inefficiency, infinite scroll is used. Often that works just fine, but here it’s very tedious and frustrating to find photos if you have many. You keep scrolling and scrolling, new images load slowly, and the more you scroll, the slower things become as it bogs down. Paged browsing would be much easier and faster since it would allow you to skip around. However, Flickr does a much better job at infinite scroll because the photos load so much faster, they show more than one wide, and they have a hybrid approach with paging after a certain number of items.

But back to the narrow view issue – we need a wider view to better show many photos. I definitely think Google can do this without too much trouble. There is a tab at the top right of the left sidebar that allows you to hide it and restore it. I envision this tab allowing the user to switch between 3 states instead of just the 2 it does now. You could use it to expand the sidebar right to take up most of the window so that photos can be viewed much more efficiently in a grid format – something like this image I created below. This could be a great help to desktop, laptop, and tablet users, anyone with a screen wider than a phone’s.

google-maps-contributions-wide-view-animated2

One other problem I’ve found with the current view is that initially the map shows a very limited number of pins for your photo locations. These correspond to only the small number of photos that are loaded on the left at first. When you scroll down, more photos are filled in after a few seconds and their pins are added on the map. This prevents you from having a nice map view of your photo locations, unless you want to do a whole lot of scrolling and waiting.

I saw one user’s contributions screen that initially showed 10 photos on the left, and just one pin on the map (since that bunch of photos were all “snapped-to” one point of interest). However, when I scrolled down, more photos appeared, and more pins as well. It turns out this user has 1,963 photos from many other places. The initial view is just a poor representation.

Google has functionality for groupings of pins. Maybe that could be used to prevent a zillion pins from appearing on the map at one time. There just needs to be a way to show all your (or another users’) locations.

3. Allow for Comments on Photos

Panoramio allowed you to comment below a photo, to favorite or like it, and to join a group and add your photos there. In Google Maps, this is not the case. I did find a way to comment, sort of.

If you open a photo from the photos layer of Google Maps (on a desktop or laptop), the photo opens to mostly fill your browser window. You can see a darkened box in the top left that shows minimal info for the photo and options for sharing. You can check whether the photo came from Panoramio or came from an upload to Google Maps by trying the links on the title or user’s name. The photos that came from Panoramio will have a link to the Panoramio photo page on the 2nd title, and a link to the Panoramio user page on their name. (Note: this will likely only be the case until Google turns off Panoramio for good.) The photos that came from Google Maps will link the title to a Google Plus location, and the user link will go to the user’s Contributions page. If you click to go to the Google Plus page, it shows an extremely similar photo page, but it does allow for commenting there.

This seems odd to me. Hopefully Google can link them together better to just allow commenting from the first photo page.

This is just one item among many that makes for a much diminished community aspect compared to Panoramio. Now of course Google+ allows for social networking activities. That’s what it’s for. It’s a whole new wild world compared to the Panoramio community, since Google+ is not just limited to like-minded geography and photography enthusiasts.

I have an open mind here. It can work through Google+. Google+ has commenting, Communities, etc. There is a community on Google+ for Google Map Maker with 98,000 members and there is another for Google Maps Views with 99,000. Views was the short-lived product in-between Panoramio and the current Google Maps & Local Guides. I can join a community and chat with people if I want to talk about something related to this or hiking. It’s not tightly linked to the photos as in Panoramio.

There is also the Local Guides program, and a site they built for that called Local Guides Connect. It’s an impressive community site meant for encouraging communication, participation, and sort of guiding the volunteer guides to help improve local Maps data.

So there are communication venues available but they are definitely different. I think ultimately it boils down to really just needing to have comments on the photos work better. I can adjust to the other changes.

4. Attribution

I think people should get a little credit for their contributions, and I mean a little differently than they do now. This is related to the previous item in a way. Just as it is difficult to comment on a photo found on Google Maps, it’s quite difficult to find more about a user.

With Panoramio, each user could have a small text blurb and a link in their profile area that someone would see when they were browsing that person’s photos. It’s not much, but I appreciated it! If the user has a website, then interested people might take a look.

Right now in Google Maps, if I find a photo I’m interested in and I click on it, about all I can do is see the user’s icon and click their name to see their contributions page. As I said above, that page shows a few of their photos in a small left sidebar and pins on a map that takes up most of the browser. At the top there is the user’s icon again, this time a little bigger, and their Local Guide level. You can click on their icon, but all that does is show the details of their contributions (counts of reviews, places with photos, edited places, etc.) and their Local Guide level again but bigger. If you are looking for a little more info about the user, you are out of luck.

I can’t find a way to get to Google+ after looking at a photo on Maps. Each of these Local Guides has a Google+ profile so why can’t you get to it? If you won’t let the user have any info on their Google Maps contributions page, then at least link to their Google+ profile or page.

Now there are benefits for Local Guides that achieve the various levels by their Maps contributions.

“As a Local Guide, you’ll help others explore the world and get great benefits in return. It’s a win-win.”

Wow that sounds great. 🙂

But it seems to me that those rewards mostly serve to generate more interest in the Local Guides program. One interesting benefit is additional free Google Drive storage that comes at level 4. Of course the benefits page doesn’t say how much, but I learned it was reduced from 1TB to 100GB in July 2016 probably as the number of qualifying Local Guides grew.

The Local Guides levels aren’t limited to a certain number of users so I can understand that. I hope Google thought it through when they set that up. If they get more users, will they just keep lowering the free Drive benefit? And on top of this, the Drive storage gained isn’t permanent. It lasted 2 years back when the reward was 1TB, but now it’s just 1 year for the 100GB. As one user put it, “strange gift then”.

Once you have reached level 4, gained the free Drive storage, and then it expires, then what? Can you regain it if you contribute the same amount once again? Probably not.

If I am to dedicate part of my online life to generating content for Google Maps, then I would like some slightly better kind of attribution than what I see now. Now there is just a small icon, my username, and some Local Guides benefits. Panoramio did much better here. An adjustable link somewhere would be fantastic, but at least something more.

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