You don't have to look any farther than your smartphone to understand how real-time data is shifting the technology landscape and our digital experience expectations along with it. I was thinking about that yesterday when I read a report about the crowdsourced traffic app, Waze, which was recently acquired by Google.
Waze is a community-based traffic and navigation app -- or, technically speaking, a Global Positioning System (GPS) with real-time traffic data.
It makes that GPS navigation system you dropped $200 for a few years ago seem like an expensive mistake. Sure, you can still use that old system to get from place to place. But even the devices with "live traffic" updates can't compete with the instantaneous feedback of a reported 50 million direct users.
As CrunchBase explains, "By simply driving around with Waze open users passively contribute traffic and other road data. Users can take a more active role by sharing road reports on accidents, police traps, or any other hazards along the way, helping to give other users in the area a ‘heads-up’ about what’s to come."
Founded in Israel in 2009 and now based in Silicon Valley, Waze crystalizes the power of real-time insights. Road closed? Accident ahead? With so many Wazers on the road, you know before you get there.
And that changes the whole concept of GPS, which typically provides the best routes only in theory. Since navigation systems became common, many drivers have lost their minds, or at least their common sense, when driving under the influence of GPS.
There's an unusually large record of navigation stupidity online, going back years:
- One woman sent her Mercedes SL500 flying into a river, trusting the car's optimistic GPS guidance instead of the road signs warning of impending doom.
- An 80-year old man blatantly ignored a prominent "closed for construction" sign, then threw all common sense aside by wheeling over "a number of warnings and barricades" in an effort to follow his GPS.
- After a road closure in England, dozens of drivers blithely followed directions from their satellite navigation systems, not realizing that the recommended route now went through the River Avon.
And I could go on. Waze, as you know if you read the report yesterday, gathers real-time travel data from users -- traffic jams, accidents, roadblocks, and speed traps, road conditions and the like -- and continuously updates its maps. So users are less likely to end up in a river or in a construction site.
Sharing Data with Google
That's probably why Google was willing to shell out a reported $1.03 billion to buy Waze last June. Now the two companies are already sharing data -- "from details about traffic jams and accidents to construction and road closures, Google Maps users can now submit traffic-related information to the app."
Di-Ann Eisnor, a Waze cofounder, said at the DEMO 2013 conference in Silicon Valley yesterday that the company thrived because of the strength of its executive team. But I disagree. The success of the app lies squarely on the backs of its users.
There's a certain sense of empowerment in using the Waze app: It makes you feel in control of your data and your commute -- and creates a sense of community with other motorists. Of course, I caution against updating road hazards, including traffic and accidents, while you are driving -- things the app enables you to do. But it's perfectly fine to add those updates if you have a passenger onboard.
What's your experience with Waze? How important is real-time data in your day-to-day life?