What Is Waze And Why Did Google Pay $1 Billion For It?

Image via Facebook/Waze

Google’s acquisition of Waze became official yesterday, cementing the tech giant’s top position in the mobile mapping market for likely some time come. After entering a bidding war with tech rival Facebook, Google came out on top with not only its $1.03 billion offer, but its flexible approach to the acquisition—Google promised to delay integration of the app into its own systems and to allow Waze to continue its Israeli business operations for at least three years.

So what’s the big deal about Waze, and why should we care? The voice-based GPS-based navigational app was launched by founder Uri Levine in 2008 and originally called LinqMap. It differs from other mapping software in that it is updated by the “crowd,” a term referencing the Internet community. The app utilizes users’ drive times to provide up-to-date routing and real-time traffic updates. The free download asks users to “report” incidents, such as traffic accidents, construction and other interferences, as they pass them using hands-free technology. The crowd can also update gas prices, allowing users to find the cheapest gas station near them. The more users open Waze, the more accurate its maps become. And its algorithms are sophisticated enough that Waze can tell when cars are stuck in traffic versus stopped at a light. Certain Waze maps are already more accurate and up-to-date than those depicted in Google Maps.

But Waze isn’t just a navigational tool. It combines social and gamification features, allowing users to earn points when they contribute to maps. As they accumulate more points, users climb the ranks of the Waze community with titles such as “Waze Baby” and “Waze Royalty.”

So why was Google willing to fork over so much capital to get its hands on a competitor mapping application? First and foremost, it cements Google’s position as an online mapping leader and prevents competitors from snatching up the technology. The acquisition also gives Google another foray into the social crowd community. Although Google Maps already indicates levels of traffic with colored lines, its feature is not as up-to-date as Waze and it doesn’t allow and it doesn’t actively engage its users.