Ever heard of Waze? I hadn’t, until recently. My husband insisted that Apple Maps was awful and would lead me astray. I brushed him off and kept using it – until I was nearly an hour late picking up a friend from a small airport because Apple Maps told me that it was located in the middle of a lake. Um. No, it’s not. So while my husband briefed me about the history of the Waze app, I downloaded it. I’ve been smitten ever since. The small company also has a colorful recent history.

Waze is a really interesting hybrid of a map service and a social network. You plug in your destination and Waze will tell you how to get there. But the difference is that it uses data collected from other users to give you the quickest possible route. Other Wazers check in, offering information on slowed traffic, accidents, police, cars stopped on the side of the road, and more. The app also senses if you are going slower than the posted speed limit in that area and asks you if the traffic is heavy.

Users can also comment on events. For example, if an accident is noted on the map, there is a thread of conversation attached that users can contribute to. My family and I once discovered that we were going 5mph down the interstate because an RV had crashed into some trees in the median, even though the accident had been cleared by the time we got there.

Originally developed in Israel, recently Waze has skyrocketed in popularity. In 2013, both Facebook and Google attempted to acquire the company. Waze and Facebook could not reach an agreement, and in June 2013, Google was able to acquire the company for more than a billion dollars. However, Google is now being investigated for possibly violating competition law, as there are very few competitors for Google Maps and they just purchased one of the largest ones.

Waze is a free app that is supported by most smartphone platforms. It appears to support itself by the use of sponsored ads. While it is a very useful app here in the U.S. where its mapping system is considered complete, it is not yet complete around the world. Waze also relies on a strong community to keep the maps updated and other users current on what is going on. If you are in a remote area, while the map should be accurate, the social aspect may be lacking.

I don’t work for Waze or get paid to promote it, I just think it’s a really cool app that more people should know about!

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