On almost every long family trip for the past six or seven years, I've used two map applications the whole way, toggling back and forth: Google Maps and Waze.  

This year, for Thanksgiving, I was excited to be able to use just one the new, updated Google Maps app, while my family and I drove to New England.

To my mind, Google Maps has always loaded and updated more quickly with a simpler interface, while Waze has always done a much better job alerting me to things I'd want to avoid on the road up ahead.

As I first reported in October, however, Google Maps is now supposed to have finally implemented crowd-sourced notifications.

These are things like hazards, slowdowns, and perhaps most important: police speed traps, that Waze, which Google acquired for just under $1 billion in in 2013, has had for years. 

As it turns out, for all the hype, I wound up doing the same thing I've always done on this trip: using two apps. I just didn't see a massive difference.

So, I wondered afterward whether something had stalled Google Maps. A

s it turns out, it's likely more a matter of something that Waze already has, and that gives it a boost over its corporate cousin.

Actually, make that tens of thousands of somethings.

30,000 editors

The key advantage Waze brings to the competition is a volunteer force of roughly 30,000 map editors, some of whom work the equivalent of a full-time job for the platform, in exchange for relatively modest perks.

These are the people who go beyond simply alerting their fellow drivers to disabled vehicles and speed traps, reports Alyssa Newcomb of Fortune.

They're the ones, for example, who quickly update maps during hurricane season to show the locations of shelters, and who translate everything seamlessly into other languages.

Their rewards include things like a biannual trip to a conference in Tel Aviv for the top 70 or so Waze editors, along with simply the satisfaction of contributing to the community.

The whole thing is largely a legacy of the pre-acquisition days, Newcomb explains, when the company still had a "startup budget" but had to figure out how to fund the constant map updates.

"Early on, Waze figured out that cultivating a loyal user base could help it keep its maps up-to-date, for free," she wrote.

Imagine having that of intensely loyal and invested user base -- not just using your product, not just evangelizing it to other users, but actually volunteering their time to do the grunt work to improve it.

A map app war

It was clear in October that police were going to be quite upset if Google Maps, which edges out Waze in terms of downloads, suddenly started providing the same kind of information at scale.

But it looks like perhaps those fears were overblown. 

And while it seems we're in the early stages of a 21st century map app war, with Google Maps, Waze, the newly revitalized version of Apple Maps, and a host of other map startups battling things out, one thing is clear.

Next time you use Waze and you get a warning ahead of time of a hazard in the road or a cop with a radar gun around the bend, you've got an army of highly committed volunteers to thank for it.

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Published on: Dec 7, 2019
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