Crowdsourcing-a word that vies with “Engagement” for being the most overused and abused term in social media. In the case of Waze, however, the term is dead on.  Waze is a “community-based traffic and navigation app” available on both the Android and iOS operating systems that utilizes crowdsourcing technology to “outsmart traffic.” Simply open the app while you are driving and Waze will do the rest. Your car will appear as a little animated icon showing your average speed. You also have the option to update your fellow drivers on road conditions- everything from construction to a speed trap.

Waze also has a “community-edited maps” option.  When I first heard about this option, I must admit to a significant degree of skepticism. So many crowdsourcing apps have great ideas that just don’t catch on and the map-editing option seemed a bit too complex. Often the main issue is the lack of an offline component to allow individuals to meet face-to-face.  Turns out that Waze realized this as well! They host a series of “meet-ups” to introduce the map-editing tools to noobs and give updates to veterans. Their results seem to speak for themselves. In 2012 they had 500 million map editors. Think of this as the map version of Wikipedia.

The difficulty with crowdsourcing apps is that they don’t work unless you build a large enough community that the data is consistently being updated. Just as Wikipedia is reliant on niche experts for quality control, Waze depends on getting a significant mass of users in a given community to utilize their App.  For Waze to work, users have to be willing to keep it open and not use other applications to get them to work. To this end, Waze also integrates the gas buddy technology to provide users the option of updating gas prices in their neighborhood. They have also put together a voice turn by turn navigation system to keep users from turning to Google or Apple. These are big competitors to take on. But Waze has played their cards wisely. Rather than marketing themselves as a superior technology-which let’s be honest, they aren’t- they market the community atmosphere. They sell an idea of community togetherness. In addition to the utility of their app, they have an instant messaging service and provide the option of connecting users via Facebook.

Waze is a great case study of the importance of community-building and outreach and how to utilize social media to do so. But it is also yet another example of the difficult in pinning a value on such a company. Arguably, a huge amount of the value of Waze stems from the relationship it has built with its users. It is not at all clear how much of that value actually translates to monetization as a recent buyout attempt by Apple demonstrated. Bottom line: this is a company to keep an eye on!

For more info check out their adorable video here:

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