I use Google Maps extensively when I drive to most places for the live traffic info, and when I travel. Before I fly anywhere, I ‘star’ the location I am staying at, and the places I want to visit, so at a quick glance I can see how closely they are all linked and plan my route. I also love Street View; I have to know where I’m going before I head there. And if local, I need to see if there’s parking.

This is where the Local Guides feature within Google Maps comes in. It’s been around since 2015, and there are about 25 million users globally. I never really paid attention to it until Google Africa invited me to try it out by exploring Melville. If you haven’t really heard about it either, don’t worry it’s not an obvious feature.

Local Guides lets you rate and review spots you’ve been in, in your city, to help others discover new places. You’re sharing your world with the rest of the world through your unique experience. You can rate and review (with pics) restaurants, sight-seeing spots, shopping centres, or businesses you’ve dealt with. Anything goes – even your local Spar. If you know how Zomato works for food, this is basically rating and reviewing everything else listed on Maps. [Side note: I used to love Zomato but I’m over it now].

The bit about it not being as obvious? To sign up for Local Guides, you just have to go into any listing (restaurant, business, shopping centre, etc), tap it, scroll down till you can see options to rate it, and then tap however many stars you want to begin rating. Somewhere around here you will be asked if you want to be a Local Guide, and to accept Ts&Cs.

From what I can tell, when you start off on Level 1, you earn two points per review with photos and one point for reviews with no pics. You don’t earn points for leaving a 1-5 star rating; or just adding pics. You have to write something to earn points. Fair. Other ways to earn points is by adding info, suggesting stuff and confirming details are correct for listings. You have to give permission to Google to access your history for some of this. If you think you can put fake info and reviews, it will be deleted (there are moderators), and you will have points deducted. The higher your level, the number of points you earn increases, from what I can tell. I’m still learning my way around so if you know anything about it, feel free to leave a comment.

One the the biggest draw cards for me with Local Guides is the gamification aspect of earning points, climbing the ranks, and unlocking new benefits. I’m not doing it to compete with others, but because I want to get on the next level. And if you know me, you know I unapologetically take photos of my food. I try not to spam my Instagram feed with it, so you can only imagine what my camera roll looks like. And I’ve already started reviewing places on Google Maps since being introduced to it a couple of days ago. I had to get the Local Guide badge visible on my profile pic, which you get on Level 3. I will attempt to leave reviews on places I travel to in other countries after visiting them, instead of going back and finding everything.

Some of the benefits based on ranking include early access to Google products, promoting your own meet-ups on the Local Guides calendar, get invited to Google-hosted events, earn more Google cloud storage, get featured on online channels, and the best of the lot is to attend the Local Guides summit internationally (but this isn’t easy, as far as I know just one person per country gets selected).

Interested in becoming a guide? Head to https://maps.google.com/localguides or just open the Google Maps app on your handset and start reviewing places.