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 a staple in smartphones.
If you are told Waze , it won’t take more than two seconds before you understand what you are 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 “must-haves” on smartphones , one would be tempted to say, at same as Facebook, Instagram, Google Maps and other Netflix or WhatsApp. The ones you 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 are now relying on their smartphones and a simple “ Social GPS ” app designed in Israel to find their way. A success based on an idea in mind from the start: collaboration.
Because it was originally a user’s fed up – with 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 info to add to get the fastest and most convenient route, relying on open source satellite positioning data.
“ Everything Waze does is based on collaboration. Community is the heart and soul of Waze “, summarizes Frandroid Hila Roth, responsible for Communities at 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.”
Arriving seven years ago, Hila Roth was tasked with creating the Waze community in order to give another dimension to the initially application of guidance and traffic alerts. At the time, there were basically only map editors, but no real help on the ground to escalate issues and, most importantly, to make updates faster than traditional navigation systems.
“Real people” on the roads of Waze
“ People don’t necessarily realize it 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 for the app to meet local standards, verify road information and form partnerships. And these volunteers do it for the good of the community. “
His team now manages volunteers around the world in five areas:
- Map editors
- Beta testers
- Localizers (to adapt information to France)
- Partners (governments, local authorities, town halls, organizations, etc.)
- Community Carpool (carpooling service in Israel, United States, Mexico and Brazil)
In total, Waze relies on half a million map publishers who form the basis 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 over 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 you ask them, you find that they care about each other and want the best possible service experience for everyone, which they use too , ”says Hila Roth. These volunteers even share time to meet and discuss with the Waze teams, chat on the forums and meet in “real life”.
France is also the largest European Waze community. Nearly 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 while others (the Localizers ) take care of verifying that the data are 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 in 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. “ A lot 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 global community manager. All volunteer feedback is closely watched and their suggestions taken very seriously.
The community has thus provided lane guidance that now appears on on-screen maps, taking toll rates 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 notably made it possible to take into account in navigation the famous Crit’Air sticker which indicates the environmental class of a vehicle and whether or not it is allowed to circulate 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 around the world “, analyzes Hila Roth. She recognizes that without the thousands of volunteers who roam and map, Waze couldn’t 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 that sometimes corresponds to the vision of the users, to their expectations “, insists Hila Roth, recalling that at the launch, Waze left zero, without the existence of a community. “ Most of our functionality is a combination of user feedback and product ideas. We talk to 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 stresses the importance “ of listening to volunteers, sharing with them the mission of Waze and understanding what they are doing. would like to have in the product ”. “ It is rare that such a large global company has this kind of direct relationship with its users and contributors ,” says the 30-something. And this unique perception of Waze among its users, Hila Roth feels it on a daily basis: “ I am often referred to as Waze as a person:“ Waze told me to do that… ”,“ Waze thinks that the road is better there… ”This is where we understand the importance taken by the app”.
“Everyone’s app, part of life”
When Waze is asked who the real competitors are, no name is mentioned. And it’s not out of disrespect or too much humility. The model is very different from the rest. Bought by Google for nearly a billion dollars in 2013, Waze did not disappear for all that in favor of Google Maps, which has been enriched by the capabilities of its newcomer.
“ We do not 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 is not driving will not be using Waze, but Google Maps to get somewhere. “The two companies remain independent in their operations.
At Waze, we take 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 Israel , ”she recalls. “O n is proud of what we do, not having to explain the company, because everyone knows it. Wherever I go in the world, people want to tell you about Waze when they know you work there, have some advice . This is also the spirit of Waze too. A mobile application that has become “ a bit 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 integrate the Waze community?
The Community Volunteer Program is open to everyone 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 publishers are entitled to masterclasses to ensure consistency in Waze-style edits.
More info on https://www.waze.com/communities