Tech Talk: Say goodbye to Traffic Jams with Waze!

Being stuck in traffic sucks. I mean majorly sucks. Currently we have two ways of countering it: 1. being a traffic “tipster” on some drive-time radio show or 2. more recently, tools like googlemaps.  Some guys in Israel came up with a novel solution: combine the two. Meet Waze!

 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. It’s also highly addictive! My husband and I drove from Charlottesville to DC the other weekend and spent the whole time trying to match the Wazer icons with the drivers.

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. 

But before you delete your google maps app there are a few issues Waze has yet to resolve. For starters, a crowdsourcing app is only as good as its crowd. In densely populated areas Waze works well but outside of the metropolitan areas it becomes simply another map app and that’s where it runs into issues. Google maps has set a very high standard and there’s no way that an upstart like Waze can hope to match their tech. While it has turn-by-turn voice navigation, it’s a bit slow and instead of rerouting it has a panic attack reminiscent of the early Tom-Tom system “you’re going the wrong way”. Also forget about any “search nearby” option. Which sucks for those of us who map things according to Starbucks proximity! Finally, it’s hard to use the crowdsourcing option in hands-free mode at least using a smartphone.

Waze is potentially very cool and if you are in a metropolitan area I highly recommend trying it out. At the very least simply because the icons are just too cute. That being said, if you are in a rush to get somewhere and need precise directions stick with your tried and true google maps app– at least for now.

Portions of this post originally appeared on Social Media, Etc. on April 4th, 2013

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