Shaunak Das from Serampore reaches Google headquarters, Courtesy: Google Local Guides

‘Local Guides’ is a program hosted by Google, which invites its users to help them make the map better, by asking them to review, add photo, answer questions regarding any location in the NASA satellite-aided map. Even one can add places, rectify incorrect information and can claim his/her business placed in the map.

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After Google launched this feature in public, it got a huge response from all over the world, and different people from different cities went on to contribute their known locations to improve the world map provided by Google. Local Guides from a same region regularly arranged meetups to discuss about it. India was not unaware of it, although initially, it got not much response. The interest of public over it took new heights after a doctor from Serampore, Hooghly, West Bengal, got chance to represent India at the prestigious annual Local Guides Summit arranged by Google at its headquarters at San Fransisco, California, United States of America.

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Today, we will listen to his story, and would of course gain some motivation from the hard work he did to attain success. Before that, we must introduce this young, vivacious man to our readers. His name is Shaunak Das, or we should say, Dr. Shaunak Das, a doctor who is currently associated with a private company at Salt Lake, Kolkata. Dr. Das had been invited by Google to visit their annual summit which took place from 12th to 15th September, 2016, after a tough selection process involving numerous other Local Guides.

Here is what he said about this journey in his own words:-

Introduction to Maps

I started keeping my eyes on this initiative from 2000, when there was no Google Maps, but Panoramio, which used the NASA copyrighted satellite images to locate the positions. I was eager to know if I can locate my position in it too, so that the world can find me. I was an active user in Panoramio during 2002-2003, and I regularly contributed for them. In 2005, Google started its mapping service called the ‘Google Maps’, for which they had to tie up with NASA, since Google had no own satellites. At that time, the maps were very ordinary, we could mark the roads, meadows and the water bodies through the Polygon.14894578_10157638946640333_959729963_o

I was doing it actively, meanwhile I was busy studying the BHMS course (Dr. Shaunak Das is a doctor). Unfortunately, some group of hackers attacked Google Maps, and damaged this Polygon system, forcing Google to disable this feature completely. Following this incident, the current Local Guides feature evolved out.

Equipment Used

It’s a Samsung Galaxy S4 smartphone, which I brought from the Rhode Island, U.S.A. I downloaded ‘Google Street View’ app from the Play Store, which has a feature of 360 degree camera, which allows one to capture the 360 degree image of a place. Earlier, Google did not allow users other than USA residents to access this feature on this app, but I was surprised to see that I could access it even in India. Later I asked Google, they said since I brought this phone from USA, and its address is registered there, I’d have no problem using it. It was very advantageous to me, and I started roaming around the city and capture 360 degree images. Other photographers also asked me how to capture these images. I think, I was the only 360 degree photographer in India that time, and this feature appeared as an X-factor, while Google selected me for their LG Summit among thousands of applicants.

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Photo Credit:- Google Local Guides

The Selection Process

Yes, it was a tricky form actually. We were completely unaware of the fields of this form, and maximum people put their name as ‘XYZ’ to proceed to next pages to know what Google actually wanted from the applicants, but in this process, they could not proceed further. Google said we’d need 20-25 minutes to fill the complete form, but in reality, it took around 1 hour. On one Sunday, I sat to do it, and I was puzzled instantly. After asking about country, Visa information, they asked what had I done as a local guide, and what have I done for my regional forum of Google Guides.

This Local Guides program is not very popular in Bengal, and we had a small forum called ‘West Bengal Local Guides Community’ created by Amitesh Gayen, our fellow Local Guide. I had to provide information about a Local Guide meetup we organized last year at Eco Park, and how a hospital in Uttarpara helped me in this activity. And finally came the hardest demand ever – they asked me to send a 1-minute video explaining why I want to visit the summit.

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I asked my fellow Local Guides to help me shooting this video, but unfortunately majority of them refused to do so because they could not find any personal benefit from it. I did not rely on professional videographers too because they would edit the video themselves and I may not be satisfied with it. So finally I took my selfie stick bought from the Niagra falls, and went to Millennium Park and recorded my words with Howrah Bridge at the backdrop on my own, while people almost considered me a half-mad watching me talk alone like that. Thereafter I used Camtesia software to edit it into a 1-minute time frame, before uploading it in Youtube to send Google its link.

Google received almost 1000 such applications, among which only 75 Local Guides were invited for the summit. I came to know that I got a place in the list when Google announced the results on 20th May 2016.

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At the Summit

On the first day there (12th October), we had a reception party. We were staying at Hyatt, where Google booked 100 rooms for 75 of us and 25 Google employees. The next day, we visited the Google headquarters at Mountain View, Silicon Valley, where we had a private meeting regarding some of their internal issues. We boarded a special bus there, which could kneel down to ground level while exchanging passengers. There, the 75 guides were divided into 7 teams, and I got place in Team Yellow. The vice president of Google Geo, Jen Fitzpatrick gave a welcome speech to us, and mentioned the top 5 Local Guides who helped improvement of Google Maps to a large extent. In that top 5, apart from me, there was a Malaysian girl who uploaded 640 GB photos to the map, and another boy who showcased the physically disabled people on his video. A man from Nigeria also featured in that list who helped in the Google Local Business.

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Photo Credit:- Google Local Guides

Then they showed which Guide had to travel the most to reach there. A guy from the Reunion Island (French colony in Africa) was declared as the one who had to travel the highest distance. I was second in that list, although I had to cover greater distance through a break journey. We were asked to click unlimited photos and post it with #LGSummit16, they’d show those on local TV, and the best photographs would get prize. Then, we had a grand lunch session at the large Google canteen, before heading to the Merchandise store. We as well visited the Android garden, where all the sculptures of the existing Android OS are kept (Cupcake to Marshmallow). The next day, we visited another local office of Google and then, a bowling game center.

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Photo Credit:- Google Local Guides

That was the end of the Google tour, and 30 of the 75 of us visited the Alcatraz Island, which is quite similar to Cellular Jail at Port Blair, Andaman Islands. I met with the prison officer there, who was selling his autobiography to the visitors. Thereafter, I spent time with my relatives in U.S. and returned here on 18th October.

Any Special Moment

I wanted to get in acquaintance with as many as Local Guides from the world as I can. So, among all the 75 people who visited there, I have talked to at least 25 of them. I even calculated time to talk with each so that I could get enough time to talk to maximum number of people there. Meeting so many different people from different nations were the most special experience for me. Apart from that, getting into the Silicon Valley, which contains the headquarters of internet giants such as Google, Facebook, was also special.

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Photo Credit:- Google Local Guides

Tips for the Junior Local Guides

It’s easy for anyone to get 500 points and reach Level 5 in this program, but as it has some positive sides like one can give instance of his contributions in job opportunity, it has some negative sides too. People in India are too much competitive, and in a country like ours with 120 Crore population, lacs of people are using smartphone. Google hosts this summit annually, and hardly have they selected 2-3 local guides from a country, so if one contributes in the Google Maps with the particular aim to reach U.S.A. Google headquarters somehow, then that’s not a great idea. You should not leave your studies and do this all the day, to reach there. The people I met there said that they did it just for fun, at their leisure time, they clicked photos and submitted to Google Maps. An Indian guy even scored 10,000 points, and there were reports about him that how he could attain that much, and finally he was not even selected for this summit. I would suggest junior Local Guides not to take this thing as a competition, instead just enjoy doing it.

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Photo Credit:- Google Local Guides

Even I faced some bad experiences regarding this qualification process. When I got selected, my fellow Local Guides protested against my selection, and they even set up Facebook pages complaining against me. In a large country like India, if every top scorer from a state wants to go there, it’s totally absurd.

Do it as fun, and think about it from a completely different angle rather than setting an eye on the annual summit. If you add your home to the Google Maps, it’s your family who would get the advantages of it, maybe while returning at night from somewhere through private cabs which use Google Maps for navigation.

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