Waze: Make Your Own Maps in Realtime

Waze (blog) is using mobile phones as sensors to collect data. The Israeli-based start-up (though now with offices in SF) is relying on users to create its maps, to report realtime traffic and to teach it how to route from place A to place B. Along their drives the user gobbles points for every action. Use the app and gain recognition within the Waze community. The company is doing all of this through its free turn-by-turn navigation apps (sorry, iPhone and Android only for now). This is exactly what I’ve expected to see from the Tele Atlas/Tomtom and NAVTEQ/Nokia acquisitions, but that hasn’t happened yet in either case.

waze sf map

Whenever you use the Waze mobile app you are contributing to their data store and their community. You can use the app to find an address, a business or to store favorite locations. The map view will display traffic conditions. Upon selecting a destination Waze will give you directions. Right now those directions are not necessarily going to be very good. So they ask that you leave the app on and just drive to your location – Waze will learn your secrets to generate a better route next time. As you drive to a destination you will get relevant alerts (hazards, speed traps) and be given points based on your distance.

The map above was generated with just one week of driving data in SF. The base maps are all from the TIGER data set, but that set is old and not always kept up-to-date. Here is the same view on Google Maps.


This is a Portland part of the map as seen on the Waze site in an admin interface. Though Waze uses TIGER data (Radar post) and mobile data as its base it still needs human input. Any place you see a 6 that is a road that needs to be verified on the website. Sometimes you can just add the direction (like in the pink spots) other times the fixes need to be more advanced. Waze has promoted several community members to be area managers. These super users can approve changes and fixes to the map. On the Waze website you can watch a realtime stream of alerts from users. The Live Map shows cars driving around in cities.

One of the first questions that many geo geeks ask of Waze is what about whether they could use OpenStreetMap’s data. CEO Noam Bardin is wary of the OSMs licensing and would rather start from scratch. Waze definitely intends commercialize their maps and does not want to have any issues with that. He views the two projects as fundamentally different. He wants Waze to be a realtime mapping data source that includes road closures and traffic (whether or not OSM participants would agree that they aren’t realtime is another story). The choice to not use OSM data is not difficult in the US where TIGER data provides a great free resource for geo apps. However Waze intends to go to Europe, where each country has different rules governing their geodata (one of the reasons OSM began their). When Waze does go to Europe they will have to consider using OSM data and they hope that the licensing is compatible by then (or they may have to use a more costly service like Tele Atlas or NAVTEQ).


Waze is sure to raise some privacy-oriented eyebrows. However, the company is currently storing all traces anonymously, so similar Google and Loopt they are quickly dropping identifiable data and not storing history. This is another fundamental difference between OSM and Waze. OSM is being created by volunteers. Waze’s maps are being created by users who are trading their location in return for a service (routing, search and traffic). Waze will be storing aggregate information about its users. On your Dashboard page there are stats on your usage (miles driven, alerts) and (coming soon) data (times) on your daily commute.

As mentioned Waze plans on making revenue off of the maps. As Bardin says in an email: “Waze plans on making revenue off the data set it is building – real time maps, traffic and road information. In the very near future Waze will be releasing an API which will be free for non commercial use and will work out a revenue share for commercial applications.”

There are many companies that are aimed at the realtime market. These companies are collecting people’s thoughts, tweets, actions and environmental data. Waze is the first that is trying to draw a map in realtime and publish it out to the web. By offering a valuable (and improving) mobile service in exchange for data Waze has the opportunity to create a new type of map. I expect Waze to get some competition from Tele Atlas/Tomtom and NAVTEQ/Nokia. However, those multi-billion dollar acquisitions with their huge hardware base have not made moves this bold. I expect them to pay a lot of attention to (and learn from) Waze’s progress.

So far there have been over 4,000 installs on Android and 15,000 on the iPhone (it amazingly took them just 7(!) days to get approved by the App Store). If you want to install the app on your Android phone just scan this QR Code and you’ll be taken directly to it on the Android Market. They will be adding voice directions to the apps shortly.

Here are some iPhone screenshots. Driving screen:

iphone waze

Reporting an incident:

iphone waze reporting

All of the incident options:

waze iphone all incidents-2

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