As anticipated, Google expanded its burgeoning global empire on Tuesday by buying the Israeli social traffic and mapping service Waze. You might recognise Waze as the GPS app with a soul. Pretty soon, you're going to know it as the thing that made your commute bearable once and for all.
Waze's entire ethos revolves around the activity of its nearly 50 million users who volunteer information about their movements and help it offer real-time updates on everything from traffic to petrol prices. This built-in network community obviously impressed Google, which enjoys a relative monopoly on the mobile mapping business but is still coming up short in terms of social features. Thanks to Waze, Google Maps is suddenly social.
Or at least we think Google Maps will be social. The search giant made its interest in the idea of "outsmarting traffic" in the Google Official Blog post announcing the acquisition. "This fast-growing community of traffic-obsessed drivers is working together to find the best routes from home to work, every day," explains Brian McClendon, VP of Geo at Google. This statement suggests that the traffic data will be integrated, but it's unclear how Google will make use of other Waze features, like the built-in Facebook-based social network and community-edited maps.
Ultimately, though, what this means is that Google Maps are going to be much smarter about traffic — which means that you will be, too. Waze gives you real-time crowdsourced reports about which highway is jammed up where; combined with Google's smart navigation, you'll be getting home from the office faster than ever. Assuming, of course, not everybody is looking at the same Waze info and clogging up the same escape route.
Google's acquisition is a bit of a coup in the small but hypercompetitive world of mobile mapping. We learned a few weeks ago that there was a budding bidding war for Waze between Google and Facebook — a war that Google obviously won — and there were also been rumours flying around that Apple wanted to scoop it up as well. (What a popular company!) For Waze's ambition to be the social GPS app, though, Google looks like it will be a great parent company, if only because it can offer so many new users through Google Maps' dominant market share.
It's worth wondering whether Google is just going to scoop up the technology behind the Waze real-time traffic reports and then scrap the rest. But that doesn't seem likely. Google says that it will leave Waze in Israel, where it was founded, and speaks respectfully of the "Waze community." Sure, at some point, it will probably want that community to hangout together on Google Plus where it can serve up personalised ads and push people to other products like YouTube and Google Docs. But until then, Google seems happy to let that community continue to work for free. And keep you out of gridlock.