How Gamification and Social Sharing Helped Waze Scale Their App

All startups that truly go big share one important characteristic: they provide a solution to a real problem their clients experience. Waze is a great example of how a team that was passionate about creating value for clients developed a product that helps people avoid one of the biggest nuisances of modern life – traffic jams.

Waze got a lot of publicity because its co-founders formed a strong executive team where everyone was focused on developing an efficient way of cutting commute times.

From the very beginning of their journey, Waze wanted to make the most of the increasing popularity of mobile devices and the growth of the sharing economy: they assumed that channeling information about traffic patterns from drivers’ mobile devices could help regulate how busy roads are.

Waze wanted their app to achieve two main goals:

  1. Help people navigate traffic better and faster.

  2. Change traffic patterns by rerouting drivers to less busy roads and, as a result, achieve fewer traffic jams in general.

The company was founded in Israel in 2009, and by 2011 they already had more than 1.5 million users in that country, which comes to about 20% of Israel’s population.

More and more drivers were using Waze in Israel to save themselves time commuting to work. The app motivated people to share information about unexpected traffic jams, slow-downs, or car accidents they saw on their way.

At the same time, Waze created a side-product with all this accumulated data: their own maps. Waze maps were created in real-time using GPS data from drivers’ mobile devices. This meant that the more people used the app, the fuller the map would become.

Using GPS data meant that the Waze community could benefit even from the passive majority of drivers who didn’t send messages, as data about their location and speed was still available to the app.

How does the Waze app work?

  • Most information and all GPS data the app collects is stored on the user’s device (client-side storage).

  • The app updates a user’s location on the map at regular intervals, and if it loses a data connection, it will assume that you’re still moving at the same speed and move you along the same route until it receives updated information (once the connection is back).

  • Once a user enters information about police presence or roadwork, this is displayed on the map for the rest of the app’s users. For roadwork, the map will show drivers the affected range.

  • The Waze app partially relies on financial support from businesses they promote. This allows them to monetize the product, but results in a contradictory situation when users aren’t shown all gas stations, but only ones that sponsor the app.

  • Drivers can be guided by voice navigation so they can keep their eyes on the road instead of attempting to look at the map before every turn.

Waze is a great aid in caravanning: drivers can add information about their friends and see their ETA when they’re going in the same direction.

Businesses that Waze advertises get to post information about their sale and special offers that are displayed on the map.

Waze monetization strategy: how to monetize an app like Waze

[Image Source: Waze app]

How did Waze make their app safe?

More than a quarter of all car crashes in America are likely caused by cell phone use, a study by the National Safety Council has shown. Recently, a number of apps including Snapchat and Instagram were criticised after several people were involved in serious accidents while broadcasting live.

Waze creators were well aware of the potential dangers that drivers are putting themselves in when using apps while driving, so they made sure to add safety features to their app.

  • The Waze app doesn’t let you type while you’re driving (for example, it’ll ask you to pull over before you can type in a destination).

  • The Waze app allows users to turn off all sound notifications, which that can be really distracting.

By providing these features, Waze makes sure drivers can use their app safely and responsibly and protect themselves from potential legal liability.

Security concerns are also present when developing an app like Waze: not everyone likes the idea of sharing their location with others or the ability this gives people from your social circle to know where you are if you’re using the map. That’s why the Waze app has an “invisible” mode, which means that friends can’t locate your whereabouts.

How did gamification and the sharing economy help Waze grow?

We’ve already talked about what makes an app go viral, and Waze is a great example of a business that has combined various techniques to achieve significant growth quickly.

Waze used a combination of engaging features to attract drivers and expand their reach. This engagement took different forms at different stages of the app’s development.

The first users enjoyed the feel of being “pioneers” – they got to add roads to the map. Other drivers were also encouraged to use the app because they got to collect points based on the amount of advice or number of comments they left for their peers.

The app also marks various driving milestones by playing a happy chime.

Waze successfully taps into the sharing economy; drivers liked the app because through it they could give value to the community. Waze encourages interactions within the app. For example, if the app detects your car isn’t moving, it can suggest you report a traffic jam. Each driver gets rewarded for logging a traffic report, and other drivers can send you notifications to thank you for sharing information. Being appreciated by other members of the community serves as a powerful motivation for users to continue giving to their community.

Reporting accidents and traffic jams is a part of serving driver's community for Waze

[Image Source: Waze app]

How to develop a GPS-driven navigation app like Waze

Waze grew quickly in part because they allowed third-party developers to create add-ons that complement the app’s main features (for example, warning others about police presence is an add-on). If you want to develop an app like Waze, you should focus on five essential features:

1. Authorization

Personal accounts give users a space to leave notes and reviews and communicate with other drivers. In apps where people rely on the advice of others, a sense of trust is easier to build if drivers see who’s behind the tips and warnings they’re about to follow.

2. Geolocation

To provide sufficiently precise navigation, smartphones should be able to receive location data from at least four satellites. Waze can use the regular cell phone network, receiving cell ID data and triangulating device’s location on the map. This is a good backup option for times when the GPS signal becomes too weak. Using both GPS and the cellular network makes app navigation more reliable.

3. Voice directions

Developers can use the Google Maps Directions API to embed detailed turn-by-turn voice instructions into their apps. This API is provided free for a small number of requests, but eventually (after 2,500 requests) you’ll need to pay for it.

4. Rerouting

It’s essential for your app to be able to reroute drivers quickly if they make a wrong turn or t an accident prevents them from following the initial directions.

5. Social integration

Google Local and Google Contacts provide access to information about nearby businesses and friends’ check-ins, and show drivers places of interest based on their previous visits.

Waze’s success story has a lot of components: its comic-like design that balances useful and entertaining, the reliability of the technology, and the strong sense of community that makes drivers come back to the app every time they hit the road. Building an app like Waze poses a number of business and technology-related challenges, but you can succeed if you take building a sense of community as the starting point of your journey.

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