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Waze connects social drivers

Sunday, August 3, 2014

I love to drive. Whether on my own or with the family, it gives me time to think, listen to music and chat with the wife and kids.

Aside from construction and the occasional aggressive driver, the only real challenge to driving is figuring out how to get from point A to point B.

Enter the GPS (global positioning system) and myriad new travel apps for our mobile devices.

Like most apps, some GPS apps are better than others. Earlier this year, one of my colleagues introduced me to Waze, one of the first map apps to employ a social-media feature.

I immediately fell in love.

Yes, I know the thought of being “social” and “connected” with other drivers on the road is an abstract thought. We don’t text and drive. We don’t check Twitter feeds or update our Facebook status while at the wheel.

But let’s face it; we’re on the road together. We should enjoy the experience together.

Waze works like a GPS device, offering detailed maps and turn-by-turn directions. But Waze takes it a step further by connecting us to other drivers on the same route.

This social-media feature garnered Waze a lot of praise, millions of users and a Google acquisition (Google purchased Waze in 2013 for a reported $1.3 billion).

Last week, I exchanged email with Julie Anne Mossler, senior director of communications for Waze, about the success and future for the social GPS app.

Q. How do you explain the purpose of Waze to someone who has never used it before? What makes it different than a typical GPS device?

A. Waze is one of the world’s largest networks of drivers who work together daily to outsmart traffic and save time and money. By looking at real-time input from users’ GPS and their proactive reporting, we’re able to consistently recommend the fastest routes around traffic, as well as low gas prices and more. A traditional navigation system only tells half the traffic story, displaying congestion and no context. We’re about two-way communication to be your ultimate driving companion.

Q. You mention two-way communication. One of the Waze features I love is alerting people on the road behind me when I see a speed trap. I think of this as the equivalent of “flashing your lights” when passing a cop so as to alert oncoming traffic. Have you ever received any pushback from law enforcement about this feature?

A. Actually, most police appreciate the feature, since it seems to be human nature to slow down and drive more cautiously when it’s likely you’ll pass a cop. We even work with the NYPD to include their alerts within our app, like noting dangerous intersections.

Q. There are a lot more people on the road during the summer, and probably a few more police. Is there anything special that Waze programmers have to do to prepare for the onslaught of users?

A. Our two biggest catalysts for usage are what we call “traffic events” — planned activities like marathons or major traffic disasters that close multiple lanes of traffic, and weather, which is often unpredictable and leaves little time for drivers to plan their route. We can’t plan for many of these incidents, but more users equal more data which equals a more accurate map, so we’re constantly trying to attract new users and increase our server load.

Q. I’m always seeing something new with the Waze app. Without divulging any trade secrets, what new services or features might one expect from Waze?

A. Any new Waze features must enhance time spent in the car while promoting safe driving. Lately we’ve invested in social features, like the ability to text a drive to a friend so that you aren’t distracted with calls asking where you are. You can expect more social features and fun promotions soon.

Waze is available for download on iOS, Android and Windows mobile devices.

Dr. Adam Earnheardt is chair of the department of communication at Youngstown State University. Follow him on Twitter at @adamearn and Facebook at