Waze: "Wikipedia for Drivers" Leverages Social To Recommend Routes

Waze app is a high-end navigation tool and also a social, fun experience that is free and completely user-generated. I had a chance to visit the Waze office in Israel and talk with the VP of Community and Operations, Fej Shmuelevitz, about how Waze has grown as a result of immense community engagement.

When you think of navigation tools, the words “social” and “fun” are probably not the first ideas that come to mind. Waze is trying to change that.

They’ve developed a mobile app that is at once a high-end navigation tool and also a social, fun experience that is free and completely user-generated. I had a chance to visit the Waze office in Israel and talk with the VP of Community and Operations, Fej Shmuelevitz, about how Waze has grown as a result of immense community engagement.

Shmuelevitz describes Waze as ‘A kind of a Wikipedia of drivers. It’s a social navigation network for drivers and suggests daily routes based on driving patterns and social input’. Waze uses data from user’s mobile phones to create crowd-sourced maps and driving directions in some 20+ languages. Crowd-sourcing enables Waze to provide a real-time view of traffic conditions such as road accidents, traffic jams, weather hazards and even where cop cars are located.

Shmuelevitz explains that there are many layers of social functionality in the app. You can connect to Twitter, Facebook, and Foursquare and update your feeds about where you’re located at the touch of a button. You can see where your Facebook and Twitter friends are driving and you know if a friend is driving nearby, so you can meet up for a double-soy-mocha-frappuccino on your way to wherever it is you’re going. Luckily, the app knows when you are driving and disables typing while in motion to ensure safety.

Users can also join groups that have similar driving patterns such as ‘Soccer Moms in Palo Alto’. Shmuelevitz gave a very amusing example of how a community of people going to the Burning Man festival in Nevada created a Waze group to help other drivers get there. This festival is notoriously attended by nature loving ‘hippies’ and who knew they even owned Smartphones!

The app provides an open source platform so that users can edit and create new pathways and updates in the system. It’s hard to imagine, but groups of users have mapped entire cosmopolitan areas. An amazing example of this powerful community force is in the following video where you can see how the city of Bratislava, Slovakia was fully mapped in only 6 months using Waze:

There are numerous fun ways that Waze engages the user and one more is that Waze encourages users to chart unmapped areas by offering a Pacman-like game in which users “munch” up new territories in order to gain points and rewards.

Obviously, Waze’s fun and social experience help it to compete against huge rivals such as Google Maps, Tom Tom, and Garmin. There are always skeptics that say Waze doesn’t contain enough raw data to compete with the large players in the navigation market.   However, strong and growing user participation, at least in major metropolitan areas, is establishing Waze as a major player in mobile navigation…with a social twist.