Among the most famous applications in the world, Waze works quite original. Its community of users and especially volunteers is at the heart of the navigation service. Take a look behind the scenes of an app born out of fed up with becoming essential in smartphones.
If we tell you Waze, it won’t take more than two seconds before you figure out what we’re talking about. This is the strength of the notoriety of the most famous mobile applications and the navigation aid service is now part of this caste of “must-haves” on smartphones, one would be tempted to say, like Facebook, Instagram, Google Maps and other Netflix or WhatsApp. Those that we rush to install on any new device.
An idea born of a fed up
Launched in 2008, Waze has more than 140 million users each month in some 185 countries around the world, including 14 million in France alone, where the service arrived a year later. So many people who now rely on their smartphone and a simple application of ” Social GPS Designed in Israel to find their way. A success based on an idea in mind from the start: collaboration.
Because it is originally a fed up of user – Ehud Shabtai more precisely, one of the co-founders – who gave birth to Waze. He decided to tweak his GPS to add the missing roads to his itinerary. Thus was born the community GPS in which everyone could go from their information to add to obtain the fastest and most convenient route, relying on open source satellite positioning data.
« Everything Waze does is collaborative. Community is the heart and soul of Waze », Sums up Frandroid Hila Roth, responsible for Communities within the company. The young Israeli leads a group of 50 people in four offices around the world (Tel-Aviv / Israel, Manila / Philippines, Kiev / Ukraine, Sao Paulo / Brazil). But they’re not the only ones running the service. “We work with our community, which means there are tens and tens of thousands of volunteers behind who help us make Waze better ”.
Arrived seven years ago, Hila Roth was tasked with creating the Waze community in order to give another dimension to the initially traffic guidance and alert application. At the time, there were basically only map editors, but no real help on the ground to escalate problems and, most importantly, to make updates faster than traditional navigation systems.
“Real people” on the roads of Waze
« People don’t necessarily realize this when they open the app. But behind, there are real people who, on a voluntary basis, are working to improve Waze.», Explains Hila Roth. “They test it, translate it so that the app meets local standards, verify road information and form partnerships. And these volunteers do it for the good of the community. “
Its team now manages volunteers across the world in five areas:
- Map editors
- Beta testers
- Localizers(to adapt the information to France)
- Partners (governments, local communities, town halls, organizations, etc.)
- CommunityCarpool(carpooling service in Israel, United States, Mexico and Brazil)
In total, Waze relies on half a million map editors who make up the base of the service by contributing to the mapping of Waze. They make over 53 million card corrections every month. And the Hila Roth teams, which also have offices in different countries, including France, then have to deal with tens of millions of reports submitted, as soon as each of us adds a point on our route to report a accident, change, control… In addition to volunteers, each user in some way contributes to the Waze building to make it more efficient. And more than a thousand volunteers are busy translating the new features into 56 different languages.
« The profile of volunteers is quite similar in all countries of the world. These are usually people who volunteer in other fields. When we ask them, we realize that they care about each other and want the best possible experience for everyone of the service they use too», Summarizes Hila Roth. These volunteers even share time to meet and discuss with the Waze teams, discuss on the forums and meet in “real life”.
France is also the largest European community of Waze. Almost 30,000 people, including 3,600 map publishers, actively participate on a voluntary basis in improving service in the country. Some fine-tune the cartography by adding or renaming roads and streets, indicating new roundabouts or road accesses. The majority of beta testers travel the roads to verify that the information given by Waze is correct when others (the Localizers) are responsible for verifying that the data is adapted to French legislation and to the habits of drivers.
The key role of the community in adding functions
But volunteers don’t just have a role of tweaking and verifying the application. They are much more involved than that in the operation of Waze. To the point of sometimes having a central role. “Lots of features wouldn’t have been possible without them. They have a key role in everything we launch and not just to help us set up ”, sums up the world community manager. All volunteer feedback is closely watched and their suggestions taken very seriously.
The community has thus provided lane guidance which now appears on the maps on the screen, taking toll prices into account to calculate the cost of its route and choose accordingly. The information was added by the volunteers themselves, points out Waze, and thus adapted to the configuration of each road, each country.
In France, they have notably made it possible to take into account in navigation the famous Crit’Air sticker which indicates the environmental class of a vehicle and authorizes it to circulate or not on certain critical days. A French specificity that appears in the information provided by Waze to users. “Without the volunteers, this would not have happened. This gives us the best idea of what is needed in each country and what they suggest to add worldwide.», Analyzes Hila Roth. She recognizes that without the thousands of volunteers who roam and map, Waze could not afford such titanic work to enrich the offering.
“Waze told me that …”
But don’t think that Waze relies solely on its volunteers to keep the service running and twiddling its thumbs in the meantime. “We also have new functions that we offer, that our product managers bring and this sometimes corresponds to the users’ vision, to their expectations.», Insists Hila Roth, recalling that at the launch, Waze started from zero, without the existence of a community. “Most of our functionality is a combination of user feedback and product ideas. We exchange with them, they give their opinion», She adds. Engineers are also involved in the process so that everything fits easily into the application.
Waze is “unique“In this and insists on the importance”listen to volunteers, share with them the mission of Waze and understand what they would like to have in the product ». « It’s rare for such a large global company to have this kind of direct relationship with its users and contributors.», Congratulates the thirty-something. And this unique perception of Waze among its users, Hila Roth feels it on a daily basis: “People often talk to me about Waze as a person: “Waze told me to do this…”, “Waze thinks the road is better there…” This is where we understand the importance taken by ‘app’.
“Everyone’s app, a part of life”
When you ask Waze who the real competitors are, no name is mentioned. And this is neither for lack of respect nor too much humility. The model is very different from the rest. Bought by Google for nearly a billion dollars in 2013, Waze has not disappeared for all that in favor of Google Maps, which has been enriched with the capabilities of its newcomer.
« We don’t see them as a competitor“, Wishes to reassure Hila Roth. “We are very different. Our action is focused on the driver and the best driving experience we can provide. Google Maps is for everyone and for everything, whether you are walking, cycling or driving, looking for a restaurant or a place. Someone who isn’t driving won’t be using Waze, but Google Maps to get somewhere.The two companies also remain independent in their operation.
At Waze, we take a certain pride in having become such a leading partner in user navigation, but without adding more. “It doesn’t especially put pressure on us to be so famous. When Google came to buy us back, we were already known in IsraelShe recalls. “On is proud of what we do, of not having to explain the company, because everyone knows it. Wherever I go across the world people want to tell you about Waze when they know you work there, have one piece of advice. This is also the Waze spirit too. A mobile application that has become “a little that of everyone, a part of life“. So much so that some of the volunteers met in real life and even got married. A Community which has perfectly found its way.
How to join the Waze community?
The Community Volunteer Program is open to anyone on the Waze site, whether you are an individual or a public organization. All you have to do is apply for one of the 4 types of communities offered in France (map editors, beta testers, “localizers”, community of partners). The selection of beta testers profiles is more precise. Map editors have the right to masterclasses to ensure consistency in Waze-style editions.
More info on https://www.waze.com/communities