We’re out in traffic every day. We’re not only on the big highways, but busy local roads. With all this mobile technology, wouldn’t it be great if our mobile devices could talk to each other and share real-time traffic reports? Meet waze–pronounced “ways,”–a mobile application that defines the intersection of traffic reports, social networks and gaming, and is one of the cooler apps I have played with lately.
Waze, according to its web site is “is a social mobile application that enables drivers to build and use real-time road intelligence. The service includes constantly-updated road maps, alerts on traffic and accidents, and data providing users with the fastest route to get to wherever they need to go.” This is not just major road traffic reports, but all roadways if they have enough “wazers” driving on them.
When you run waze from your iPhone, Android, Windows Mobile or Symbian device, it passively starts sharing GPS-based data from your phone including the route you are driving and traffic conditions (including speed and delays) with their computer system. All you have to do to contribute is drive while running the app. Then, in real time, this traffic information is shared with others drivers heading on to your route. For example, I was driving into Boston and waze showed my primary route in bright red and moving at 7 MPH (yes, it had that level of detail). I took the alternate route, which was down to 18 MPH, but was at least moving. waze saw the traffic jam and rerouted me. It will even learn your routes and select from your most traveled routes, based on traffic. (Okay, this is a bit freaky cool now – at least from a privacy standpoint. But it is really useful).
Waze allows you to comment on hazards, accidents, traffic conditions, police actions and the like, but smartly prevents you from enter text details while your car is in motion. It does not stop you from reporting them, although your phone will automatically share that content. You can even add a photo if you’re at a standstill. When you do hit that dead stop (or stop light) the recent traffic alerts you should know about pop up on the screen. Nice touch.
You can filter reports that are around you, on your route or come from any waze groups you join. There is a very social (but optional) aspect to this app. At last count there were well over 700 groups in the U.S. and nearly 3,000 worldwide. According to their web site, “Groups have formed around specific media companies, car brands, smart-phones, music and destinations.” This is perfect for people who travel the same corridor each day or want to interact with fellow drivers using Twitter or Facebook (but when you’re not driving – please).
When you get back to a computer and log into the dashboard, you can see the route you took, and the time you traveled it. Adding Google Earth features to the routes only increases the cool factor. From this panel you can also report problems on the map such as street name corrections, house numbers, unnamed roads and the like.
The web site wants you to “remember that waze is 100% user-generated and our community has just begun to build in the US, so features in this demo might appear more developed than they actually are.” So what happens if you run into a road that isn’t there? The mobile application lets you add it.
Now more cool: The game factor. I thought it was a bit odd that my car took the form of a Pacman-esque munchy thing for part of one trip. I started using waze before Halloween, and on the side streets of my route were pumpkins. Driving “over” them lets you score points. There are many different ways to score points including sharing traffic reports, participating in the communities or just driving.
The app is innovative and easy to use, but still has a few glitches (like not always drawing all the streets in 3D mode), but is rapidly getting better. Already with more than 1.5 million users, the sheer value of the product will keep me coming back. The privacy options are also easy to set and straightforward about their function.
As social media continues to mature, the blend of gaming and crowdsourcing traffic seems a logical step whose time has come. And if it’s not the next logical step, it’s just really useful (and fun).