“Unlike other apps, Waze is used a lot even when people don’t need to be told when to go, like for commuting,” Eisnor says. About 70 percent of trips made with Waze do not involve asking it for directions. Instead people leave it running on their phone to see real time traffic data, receive warnings of hazards reported by others and contribute themselves to the community.
The southwest-Florida TV station NBC-2 has created a Waze group for local commuters, and it now bases its reports exclusively on information and maps drawn from that community and other Waze users in the area. “They found that information from Waze was as good—and even better than—the paid-for traffic data they used before,” says Eisnor.
To encourage users to probe conditions in uncharted areas and thus extend Waze’s coverage, the company employs a game-like feature: icons dubbed “road goodies” placed on the map. Users earn points for driving over the virtual goodies, and often diverge from their route to do so, says Eisnor.
Mikel Maron, a developer and member of the board of Open Street Map, a collaborative project working to build a free, editable online map of the globe, says he can understand why users might be willing to change their route to gather data that helps others. Some of the data collected by Open Street Map is used by Microsoft’s Bing Maps service.
“I know that once people start mapping in Open Street Map, it becomes a kind of addiction. You really want to help fill in the white spaces,” says Maron. “I imagine that is perhaps how someone would feel about helping others by improving Waze’s coverage.” However, he says some people may reconsider when it becomes clear that Waze seeks to make money using their data.
One revenue strategy under development at the company involves placing virtual coupons or discounts on the road for collection. “We’re currently experimenting to see what influences behavior and find out what incentives work,” says Eisnor. “We’ve been surprised by what the threshold is.” Waze’s advertising platform launched in Israel two months ago. A recent trial in San Francisco awarded free concert tickets to the user who drove over the most promotional goodies.
Eisnor says that saving money can coexist alongside more altruistic motivations like helping to cut travel frustrations. “In time, I want to answer the question of whether we can reduce congestion based on coupons at Starbucks,” she says.
Bayer says he thinks that advertising and fixing traffic jams could go together. “I think it would be possible in future to use personalized incentives to try and decongest freeways by altering drivers’ routes,” says Bayer, “the driver and promoter might get something out of it but there can also be a public good.”