Google is inviting Canadians to help it edit and update its Google Maps service by adding local features and points of interest or correcting or deleting incorrect information through Google Map Maker.  Ilyse Smith, General Manager of H+K Toronto, reflects on what this says about the way we communicate today.

When we think of mapmaking, it seems like a specific skill that’s very tangible and fact-based, whereas when we think about the kind of content that has been developed through Wikis or online collaboration, there’s always been a concern about the validity of that information and where it comes from. What Google Map Maker says is that consumer-generated information and content has reached the point where it can be used for something this definitive and concrete.

Not many years ago, if you wanted to generate news or make people understand something that was happening, you had to go to a major metro hub where you would have access to daily newspapers and TV cameras, etc. It would be nearly impossible to capture something that was happening somewhere really remote. But what we’re seeing now is that people everywhere are able to feed information into the conversation and feel a real local flavour of what’s happening in their community. This impacts the broader consciousness of people anywhere. As consumers of information, we’ve come to expect that we can get that kind of 360-degree exposure to information – and not just be able to see it and read it, but then be able to talk about it and compare it to what we might be seeing in our neighbourhood, and to engage and extract our own meaning and experience from the information that’s being shared.

We’ve reached a place where most people do understand that at the rational and theoretical level.  We know there’s something happening and we know that it’s something important. Whether we can translate that understanding into something tangible and actionable depends on who is doing it. Some organizations definitely do it better than others, for a number of reasons. One big part of it is comfort level. There are still organizations and individuals who are much more comfortable sending out controlled, legally-approved information than engaging in dialogue and being prepared to take feedback and potential criticism and engage in conversation with individuals. This can be because of the way an organization is structured or because they have some concerns – legitimately – about how the sharing of that information might impact their business from a regulatory, legal or shareholders’ perspective.

We’ve seen some companies and organizations embrace this new way of communicating and really move forward, while others are still trying to wrap their heads around it and figure out how to do it without losing what’s so important in terms of what the company has been in the past.

As more companies, organizations and individuals embrace this model, the public’s expectations and mode of working is changing. When we’re able to feed back information on what products we’d like to see available in stores and share information on sales to manage pricing, it no longer becomes acceptable when an organization, government body or company doesn’t make itself available for that kind of feedback.

We all ultimately have choices in terms of where we spend our time and where we spend our money. Historically, experience has proven that you go where you have a customer experience that is satisfying and where you feel that your needs are respected and you are valued as a customer. Increasingly, that means being brought into the communications cycle.