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Abraham at the Google Connect Live event in Mountain View, US, in 2017.

Google Maps contributor Stephen Abraham talks to Balqis Lim on how his efforts are helping others


NAVIGATION apps have become a great addition for users and travellers today.

Many rely on these apps to beat rush hour traffic and find the quickest routes to school or work, while others use them for travelling from state to state and getting around in foreign cities.

But now with Google Maps, people are able to not only find directions but also all sorts of other information about their choice destinations — be it reviews, photos, opening times and more — crowdsourced with the help of Local Guides, a global community of more than 50 million users.

Stephen Abraham, 43, is one such Local Guide. The Melaka-born Malaysian began contributing to Google Maps in 2016, and like many of his peers, it was something he did as a personal passion and for fun.

His selfless contribution has now earned him a ranking of Level 10 which was achieved in two years, in the Google Maps Local Guide ranks.


LOCAL GUIDE JOURNEY
There was one time when people would buy a GPS navigation device for their cars, and the same goes for Abraham.

As a big Garmin GPS user, Abraham is also part of its MapSource community, helping to keep and correct any wrong roads for monthly software updates. Users will have to download it online to get an upgraded map.

When more people move from offline navigation devices to Google Maps, Abraham too jumped on the bandwagon and found that the app is more dynamic where information is updated in real-time.

He recalls a time when he needed to buy an electrical device but when he located the place on Google Maps and called the phone number stated on the site, nobody picked up.

He eventually drove there and to his disappointment, the item was not available. He then updated the phone number on Google Maps so that he could just call the shop next time.

His small act has not just benefited the community but the shop owner as well.

“Since my journey with Google Maps and Local Guides begun, I haven’t looked back,” says Abraham, who has done over 9,000 edits and answered over 12,000 questions. The photos he uploaded have been viewed more than 119 million times on the platform.


NEW EXPERIENCES
Abraham says he also uses Google Maps to discover new experiences.

There are other functions on the platform that many are not using such as asking for recommendations before patronising a new place.

According to him, when a person asks a question on Google Maps, those who have written reviews on that place will get a notification and can choose to answer.

“All those information will drive the Google Maps’ intelligence and will become a searchable index of that location. For example, when you search for Halal eateries, all the related location will come out on the results page,” he says.

Sharing one of his experiences, Abraham says after meeting his friend one day, they decided to grab a meal. He opened Google Maps and it already prompted best food suggestions around the area. He clicked on the post and a list of eateries came out.

“I’ve never heard of the restaurant listed on the top two picks and since it had a high match score to my profile, we decided to try it out.

“It was a Pakistani restaurant and we had a lot of bread, meat and vegetables. The price was reasonable and I can say it was the best food experience ever. Without Maps, I wouldn’t have known such a place existed or even go there,” he says.

Google Maps algorithms work in a way that when a person writes a review, the system learns about the user, his or her likes and dislikes. It can intelligently suggest the user what can be good and interesting for him or her.


LOCAL COMMUNITY
In addition to contributing to the platform, Stephen is also one of the community leaders for the Malaysia Local Guides community.

Every month, the local community will organise meet-up programmes to explore new places.

“Recently we had exploration effort of the Klang Heritage Town. We were fortunate to have a guide from the Selangor Tourism Department who brought us to places like the Sultan Abdul Aziz Gallery, Istana Alam Shah, and traditional Chennai Silk Saree house, among others.

“Besides visiting the place, we also took lots of photos for Google Maps, and shared our reviews,” he says.

Abraham says there’s also a Facebook group where the Malaysian Local Guides community will share updates and events that are happening.

The only thing more impressive than Abraham’s dedication to nurturing homegrown Guides is his role as one of the worldwide moderators for Local Guides Connect, the official global community for Local Guides.

Called Connect Moderator, he helps to improve the experience for everyone.

“Other users may see me explaining the programme for new members, answering questions, sharing my knowledge, and even help resolve issues.”


CONTRIBUTOR’S PERKS
Occasionally, Google will provide perks and gifts for its Local Guides. Different countries and regions may get different perks as well.

Abraham says in Malaysia, they have received discounted bus tickets, coupons, temporary Google drive storage increase and more but nothing monetary.

Google also organises a global meet-up every year where it brings top contributors from all around the world to its headquarters in Mountain View, the US.

Abraham was fortunate to be among the 150 selected to join the Google Connect Live event the last two years (2017 and 2018).

“We got to meet the Google managers, learn about new Google Maps features. More importantly, I got to exchange views with the other Local Guides on how to improve the Maps.

“Some have organised meet-ups for a green initiative where they clean the beaches. Others had organise meet-ups that focused on accessibilities where they’ll go to the shops to mark whether it’s wheelchair-friendly and if it has parking for the disabled,” says Abraham, adding that he plans to organise similar programmes here.

This year, the event will be held in November at a new location in San Jose, California and applications are currently open until the end of the month.

Among the basic requirements are that one has to be at least 21 years old and a Level 5 Local Guide.


FUTURE PLAN

He continues to use Local Guides Connect platform daily as a source to look for and share information about Google Maps.

Whenever possible, he also tries his best to help others with information.

“I am glad that I was able to give back (and receive in synergy) to all users and contributors of Google Maps.

“As one of the senior contributors in the Malaysian community, I hope to see more Local Guides joining our programmes actively.

“Part of the focus moving forward is also to encourage people to contribute with quality. Rather than the usual ‘nice place’ or ‘good food’, we want them to write more valuable comments that will also help drive the Google Maps’ intelligence and in turn help other users as well.”

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