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

tags: ,
  • I’m claiming that Waze is a paradigm shifting technology: http://www.macguys.com/?p=204

  • What’s incompatible about OpenStreetMap licensing? CC-BY-SA… he just needs to tell people he’s using OSM, and he can layer all the commercial stuff he wants on it. CC-BY-SA is like the BSD or Artistic license is for Software… the ultimate commercially-compatible license.

    On the other hand, why doesn’t he contribute this data back to OSM? That’d make a lot of sense too… at least the parts that make sense for OSM.

    Let’s make OpenStreetMap *the* one source for user-contributed maps around the world. Please, don’t compete at this point, it’s silly.

  • This really has the potential to give power to the people. I really like this type of approach. A platform that allows people to create their own application.

  • This app really shares a new idea on making new strategies. This is a helpful application,

  • Ranen Ghosh

    I am confused and have some questions:

    Questions 1 and 2 contrast the apparent anonymity of waze with twitter where, even if the source is masked by a pseudonym, there is still an identity whose credibility, relevance, and/or relationships with recipients are key to why the tweeter/tweet-recipient association even exists.

    1) What is the incentive for reporting incidents? In the case of twitter, I hold that the incentive is gratuitous, egoistic self-expression — even if achieved with a pseudonym. Here, if association between identity and report is erased, as suggested by the article, there is no incentive that I can see.

    2) Similarly, what is the disincentive for false incident reports? With twitter identity, even if under a pseudonym, is the basis for relationships to recipients, and so tweeting disinformation would be discouraged by loss of influence and credibility. Here, I don’t see a similar curb. Also, as a consumer of information, if reports are not associated with users, I can’t discriminate based on perceived credibility.

    3) On “area managers”: how can community members be promoted to area manager on any kind of merit based on past contribution, if waze is “quickly dropping identifiable data and not storing history” ?

    4) How realistic and meaningful is “area manager” dependence? Are “area managers” envisioned to be people like emergency services workers, traffic police, or news reporters who are likely to be able to confirm incident reports regularly due to the nature of their activity? Would it be realistic to expect such people to divide their attention between work and voluntary collaboration while on the job, in the field? Also, how meaningful is ‘area manager’ corroboration if opportunities for corroboration are patchy and sparse in time and/or space?

  • Jan


    According to the following post, waze’s data is not open enough to be included in OSM:


    Basically it seems like waze is letting the community build the maps, but the community won’t own the maps.


  • Ree

    Actually Waze’s model is similar to Google Mapmaker’s model.

    As all your bases belong to Google

    So does Waze too

  • thecid

    Yes, but this is what sound bad to me.
    If Waze does not want to release the raw data that allows to build the map, noone else that Waze can release the map… whatever API they provide, users are locked with Waze, and their data is given for free to Waze.
    I’d rather give to openstreetmap, where the data I give is available to others to take and build over it.
    With Waze, the data I give is processed by Waze and the result is a map (the reverse process cannot be performed as data is lost in this operation). Only the map is given by Waze. Today, they give it for free (not as freedom but as for free), but what about tomorrow? What about the application we will have to install, what about if they change API and all software developped for this API suddently stops working! I dont want to be bound to TeleAtlas or NAVTEQ exactly for this reason, so why should I move to a fake open-solution?

  • poczatko

    i love maps