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Deep inside Waze, the hot new target of Facebook and Google's affection

Ian Paul | May 27, 2013
Crowdsourced navigation tool Waze may be in play for acquisition. Here's the background on this commuter's tool, its mission, and where an acquisition might lead.

With Waze you won't find any fancy 3D flyovers like in Apple Maps. Nor will you find Google-styled Street View photography, or even the static navigation functionality of TomTom. Waze is a commute-focused mapping experience that helps around 9 million drivers in the United States avoid traffic, improve their daily routes to and from the office, and chat with fellow commuters on the go.

If Waze isn't absorbed by a larger company, the navigation startup faces serious challenges from mobile powerhouses Apple, Google, and Microsoft. All three provide built-in mobile navigation services for iOS, Android, and Windows Phone respectively that could undermine the popularity of Waze's smartphone app, and cut off the start-up's lifeblood: crowdsourced data.

Regardless of what's ahead for Waze, the company has created a popular service that millions rely on to get around town.  If you're unfamiliar with Waze or haven't checked out the service in a while, here's a breakdown of what Waze is and what it does for drivers worldwide.

What Waze does
The Waze smartphone app for Android and iOS provides a set of maps and helps route you to work, home, and other places of interest based on up-to-the-minute traffic conditions. Waze users, whom the company calls Wazers, allow the app to track their cars' locations and speed to give the service up-to-the minute data on traffic conditions. Wazers can also submit eyeball reports for various problems they encounter on the road, such as accidents, potential hazards, or police speed traps.

The net effect of Waze's crowdsourced information is that you can quickly determine where to expect problems during your morning and evening commutes. If traffic is really bad, Waze can reroute your trip in real time. Waze can supply a lot of useful data, but as with any crowdsourced tool, Waze is most useful when a large volume of users are feeding data to the service. So your mileage may vary depending on how many Waze users are active in your area.

It starts with the map
Waze harvests more than real-time road conditions from its users. The company's maps are also user-made, at least in part. In the U.S., Waze first created a baseline for its service with map data from the U.S. Census.

Wazers then began the work of improving that baseline cartography by driving down new or uncharted roads, participating in a live Pac-Man-like game in which drivers capture virtual road goodies by driving over them on the map. Each captured road goodie—which are usually video game-like items, such as cherries, hammers, and gift packages—award user points. The more user points, the greater level of trust a user achieves within Waze, including greater editing authority on maps at Points can also make drivers eligible for prizes during company promotions.


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