How Google will reward you for reviewing restaurants

The online search engine is attempting to build a network of local reviews that will compete with TripAdvisor and Yelp.

Stephen Lam/Reuters
The new Google logo is seen at the Google headquarters in Mountain View, California November 13, 2015.

Google is offering 1 terabyte (TB) of free drive space on the Google Drive cloud, an upgrade that typically costs $9.99 a month, in return for reviews of local businesses.

Google is expanding its "Local Guides" feature in Google Maps through an incentive program, “which gives you the chance to share your discoveries directly to the map, making it more useful for everyone,” explains a Google blog. The feature will be competing with Yelp, TripAdvisor and other apps that offer recommendations and reviews of local restaurants and attractions.

“This move is essentially Google trying to farm out the huge task of collecting information on thousands of local restaurants to the people,” explains Time’s Ethan Wolff-Mann. “As Wikipedia has shown, thousands of volunteers working together compiling information can be extremely efficient.” 

It’s likely that the tech giant saw the monetary success of these competitors. Beginning with a $4 million investment, TripAdvisor is now worth over $4 billion, with 65 million unique visitors a month, according to Harvard Business Review. 

“TripAdvisor found a magical business model, representing social media and user-generated content at its best,” explains Jeff Bussgang with the Harvard Business Review. “Content is free and supplied by consumers who write reviews voluntarily. These consumers allow this content and their own engagement to be monetized without asking for anything in return.”

These companies making millions – or billions – publishing local reviews are often considered the founders of the 21st century sharing economy. In the early 2000s, before Airbnb, Uber, and Lyft, TripAdvisor and Yelp were facilitating online review sharing.

“The Internet allows for an aggregated consumer experience,” Laurent Crenshaw, Yelp’s Director of Public Policy, told the Consumer Technology Association.

But Google has decided to spend some money rewarding reviewers, instead of the “magical business model” followed by TripAdvisor and Co. Competition from Apple Maps and previously established apps make launching a similar product a different game for Google.

“By adding real-world rewards for Local Guides, Google has made buying in to its program – and by extension Google Maps – a much more appealing concept,” writes Rich McCormick with The Verge.

And it won’t be easy – users will have to put in some effort to earn the free drive space along with other freebies, outlined in a Local Guide hierarchy. As users contribute more reviews and photos, they will earn more points and climb the five-level system, with the most perks at levels four and five.

Users can earn points by posting reviews, adding new places or answering survey questions.

Once reviewers earn five points, they will reach level two, which offers early access to new Google products and features. Then at 50 points, reviewers will be promoted to level three, which offers even more exclusive freebies. Level three users will receive invites to Google-hosted events, earn a Local Guides badge to give their reviews a stamp of authority, and be invited to participate in an exclusive Google+ Community.

Only at level four, with 200 points, will users receive a free Google storage upgrade and at level five reviewers will be an official “Google insider,” testing new products before public release.

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