Waze to go: Why did Google buy the social mapping service?


We all know Google likes acquiring companies and Google-fying them, but that’s not the case with today’s acquisition of Waze. The Israel-based crowd-sourced mapping app has given its rose to Google after lots of talk that the company would be purchased by Facebook instead. The rumored purchase price for Waze is a whopping $1.1 billion, and while it may appear that Google bought the company simply to keep Facebook from doing so, there are many other ways Waze will benefit Google and its trusted maps. 

Waze is remaining a standalone company for now, and the Waze blog assured its 50 million users, called Wazers, that there won’t be any changes to the Waze community, service, organization, or brand. However, we’re sure Waze will take advantage of Google’s search capabilities and use Google’s maps to enhance their own.

While Google is still pretty much the king of maps, it’s getting some hefty competition from all sides. First, there’s Apple Maps, which was a laughable alternative when it first launched, but is quickly adjusting to its growing pains. The announcement yesterday at Apple’s Worldwide Developers Conference that Apple Maps will be integrated into vehicles starting in 2014 is poised to be a huge blow to Google. Plus, there are the open-source maps, namely OpenStreetMap, which is already powering several apps, including Foursquare. OpenStreetMap recently upgraded its community mapping tool, making it easy for anyone to edit a map. Google’s Map Maker lets users make adjustments, but it’s not as granular. 

waze-report_dtSo what exactly is Google getting out of this deal? Here’s some of the features Google Maps may adopt, courtesy of Waze:

  • Really real-time traffic information: Google has had real-time traffic information for awhile, but it’s not always the most accurate at judging how long a delay might be. It’s also light on specifics and realistic alternate routes. Waze’s user sourced traffic information will tell you exactly how fast traffic is moving on a particular street, no matter whether its faster or slower than the posted speed limit. Plus, it includes real-time notices of accidents, hazards, and speed traps.
  • More on-the-ground information: Google’s satellite images are a constant reminder that big “G” is watching, and Google Street View provides static information along a road, but it’s missing specific information about a route. Waze includes stoplights and red-light cameras along a route, plus the app will re-route you if it receives information about congestion or an accident while you’re en route. Users may even contribute information about pot holes to avoid on streets. Google’s Street View cameras are good, but they’re not that exacting.
  • Continuously updating information: Google updates Street View fairly often, and Map Maker lets users correct information, but Waze lets users report accidents, road closures, traffic jams, hazards, and gas prices. Thanks to users, the information is updated almost daily, so there’s rarely outdated information or news of an accident that happened eight hours ago. 
  • Built-in social network: Waze is essentially a traffic-focused social network with users sharing as much or as little information as they wish with others in the Waze community. There’s a point-based system that rewards you for using the app and editing maps, and encourages you to add Facebook friends (though who knows how long that will remain). The 50 million strong Waze community could be the shot in the arm Google+ needs. 
  • waze_dtNon-creepy location sharing: Remember Google Latitude? It shares your location on a Google Map so that all of your friends can find your exact location. It’s still active, though we bet you don’t know anyone who uses it. Why? Because it’s creepy to think of your friends watching you walk down a street on a map on their work computer. Waze doesn’t force you to share your location information and even allows you to contribute traffic speed information anonymously. Sure, you can see other users, but they are most likely strangers just driving to their next destination – just like you. There’s not the sense of stalking because everyone is driving somewhere already.
  • Gas Prices: Search for “gas prices” in Google Maps and you’ll be directed to numerous gas stations with reviews, but no current prices. Apps like GasBuddy have tons of user-contributed gas prices, and while Waze’s gas price information isn’t as complete, it’s still very useful. Waze could easily tap its community to add more information, too, by making it part of its points system.

Once you get beyond the “Why does Google want another mapping service?” head scratch, it’s not hard to see the advantages and depth of data that Waze brings to the table.

We’re looking forward to seeing exactly what Google does with Waze. What do you think about the acquisition? What