Google Maps as Social Space (and Time Waster)

Writing for The Atlantic, Will Peischel suggests an alternative to wasting all your time on social media: wasting all your time poking around in Google Maps.

Google Maps’ main purpose is to enable people to get directions and look up businesses. But along the way, it has become a social space too. Sort of. To fill out the world map it created, Google invited people to add snippets to all the digital places. You upload your photos; you leave your reviews; you look at the artifacts others have left behind. The pictures of a restaurant on Google Maps are often a mismatched succession of interior-design shots, flash photos of messy plates, and outdated menus. There’s plenty of detritus too: irrelevant photos, businesses that don’t exist, three-star reviews without an explanation.

The result is random and messy in a way that is different from the rest of the social web. […] But especially as algorithmic content has taken over the web, many of the surprises don’t feel fresh. They are our kind of surprises. Google Maps offers something many other platforms no longer can: a hodgepodge of truly unfamiliar stuff that hasn’t been packaged for your taste or mine. […] Because zooming out and scrolling around are so easy, you can bump into little treasures at every turn that would never land on an Instagram feed.