Maps continue their red-hot dominance as *the* interface for travel, as Google officially agrees to purchase mapping application Waze.
Waze, based primarily in Israel, is a GPS mapping application that relies on user feedback for continuous improvement: "Get the best route, every day, with real-time help from drivers."
With 50 million users, the level of information is significant. From speed traps to traffic to the location of restaurants, the maps become more accurate with each contribution.
Google, which is widely suspected to be purchasing the company for between $1.1 and $1.4 billion, is obviously vested in their own mapping capability. The product, which is a workhorse for the company, has been undergoing a complete transformation as the direction - and ultimate worth - of Google Maps comes into focus.
Google's VP of Geo, Brian McClendon, wrote the following announcement:
We’ve all been there: stuck in traffic, frustrated that you chose the wrong route on the drive to work. But imagine if you could see real-time traffic updates from friends and fellow travelers ahead of you, calling out “fender bender...totally stuck in left lane!” and showing faster routes that others are taking.
To help you outsmart traffic, today we’re excited to announce we’ve closed the acquisition of Waze. This fast-growing community of traffic-obsessed drivers is working together to find the best routes from home to work, every day.
The Waze product development team will remain in Israel and operate separately for now. We’re excited about the prospect of enhancing Google Maps with some of the traffic update features provided by Waze and enhancing Waze with Google’s search capabilities.
We’ll also work closely with the vibrant Waze community, who are the DNA of this app, to ensure they have what’s needed to grow and prosper.
The Waze community and its dedicated team have created a great source of timely road corrections and updates. We welcome them to Google and look forward to working with them in our ongoing effort to make a comprehensive, accurate and useful map of the world.
Here's the scoop on why this is acquisition matters.
Google was already tapping the crowd for maps improvement - this should accelerate this focus.
Google's MapMaker tool has already been crowdsourcing improvements, with the company even organizing events around improving maps in countries with less-than-ideal coverage.
By bringing the Waze team into the Google Maps fold, the company is no doubt hoping to leverage their knowledge at building an engaged mapping community into the Google Maps ecosystem. By accelerating the accuracy of their maps, Google can maintain their advantage over rivals.
Waze also has plenty of data points that were heretofore not accessible on Google Maps: speed traps, closed roads, and all kinds of granular, user-reported information that makes for a more robust and useful experience with a digital map. Waze hits more at the overarching promise of user-created digital maps.
As Google mentions in their Google Maps Beta promo, the maps become more useful to users as they use them more:
As you search the map, star places you like and leave reviews. The map starts to adapt and can suggest things like restaurants you might enjoy or the quickest way home.
In other words, the more you use Google Maps, the more helpful it becomes.
Facebook's loss is Google's gain
Reports originally surfaced last month that Facebook was in serious talks with Waze about an acquisition. While the deal was pegged at just under $1 billion, the talks fizzled for unknown reasons and left Waze looking for a suitor. The interest from Facebook was clearly enough to get other players interested, and Google stepped up next.
Google's purchase of Waze not only beats out Facebook, but keeps it out of the hands of Apple. As we've covered here on Tnooz, Apple's implementation of their own Maps was not a success. And while that company is striving to improve the product, including some new integrations with the recently announced iOS7, the product still leaves a lot to be desired.
So Google not only gets Waze's engaged community, but also takes the product out of any competitors' hands. This forces competitors to double-down on resources to ensure that mapping products are the most accurate, useful and engaging for users.
Waze gives Google (even more) access to cars
Google's self-driving car is a clear indication of the company's aspirations: a fleet of self-driving cars that allow users to spend their journey time surfing the Web, clicking on ads, and generating revenue for the company as close to 24/7 as possible.
The Android operating system is also finding its way into dozens of vehicle models, with Forbes even pointing to this fact as one of the more significant trends from CES. This means that the accuracy of Google Maps is ever-more vital - and where Waze's capabilities to aggregate and implement user feedback come into play.
Businesses will also benefit from Google's continued push into vehicles, thus increasing the value of Google+ Local for both businesses and the company at large.
Multimodal is the only path to greatness
Muli-modal search is what consumers are rapidly getting used to.
No one is going to want to search multiple places for travel information - they will seek out those with vast databases of relevant information that can be displayed on one interface. This interface will need to give them ratings, reviews, multimedia, and related travel information.
With Google's long-term vision to create the world's largest metasearch engine, the company is poised to dominate. The fortress the company has been gradually building is pretty close to being impenetrable.
As Node Alex Kremer mentions in the linked article above, Google has been on a decade-long path to domination - and its all coming into focus rapidly.
Over the past year, there’s been a ton of dialogue in the industry about the lack of traction for Google’s Flights product.
For all that time, it’s likely Google hasn’t cared one bit about the short-sightedness of that criticism, instead focusing on building the next-generation Maps product currently being rolled out by a very proud set of engineers and designers who have invested months and some years into its new, arguably flawless interface.
While we’ve all been scurrying around debating cache speed versus inventory availability in flight search API-land, Google has been patiently investing in a bigger mission to turn Google Maps (“more than just a map”, as its tagline reminds us) into an engine upon which it will usher in the true beginning to Google’s potentially devastating reign in travel.
Google isn’t starting from scratch to build a new travel product like we’ve all been so gullible to believe.
As has been pointed out, it knew better than any of us that the two most popular travel products in the world were already in their portfolio: Google Search + Google Maps (lest we forget about YouTube, the second most popular search engine around, also owned by Google).
It stands to reason that Google Maps just might be the best “top of the funnel” anyone could ever dream up.
Overall, a smart move
The positive feedback loop of having a self-improving mapping application is important: each segment of users improves the product, benefitting all other segments of users.
And as maps have become the core competitive advantage of travel companies, Google must continue to innovate and purchase their way to the best mapping product on the market. That's the only way to cap the long-term drive towards cross-platform travel domination.
Even so, despite the initial intelligence of the purchase, Google could very well quash the very social and engaged audience that is the core of the company. Many of Waze's most loyal users might be disheartened at the sale, and if that's the case, Google will need to be very thoughtful with how they integrate the Waze culture into the Googleplex.