Waze – GPS navigation where you can make a difference


My twitter followers may have noticed that I have recently jumped into playing with Waze. It is a GPS and navigation software for mobile platforms with sky-rocketing popularity, but what makes it unique is the social side – you can: design/fix the live maps, record roads, report road issues, and use live chats in a traffic jam like CB “what happened ahead?” – and all this quite easily. As a bonus each time you travel from home to work it will suggest you optimal traffic-dependent routes (after it learns it). Plus there’s some fun trivia to grab virtual items on the go – but see for yourself 🙂

(note: it’s a gigya tag and your NoScript may complain about a hidden click, here’s the link to the original page)

Their youtube channel offers a few videos on how it works and some hints, so you could take a more in-depth look.

You can start simple – with just having it running while driving. It will track traffic situation when you drive and report it to the system. The data is used to verify directions, to calculate road segments’ current, time-of-day and average speeds (possibly reporting a traffic jam instantly). Then you can try to navigate, save your Home and Work locations. At first it may not be 100% accurate at navigating through an optimal route, but it is a self-learning system. And at times – just be the “pacman” and score asphalt points 🙂

If you get caught by it – like me – you will surely be interested in fixing this-or-that instead of just reporting a map error on the go. Perhaps your nearby area’s map is still inaccurate – you can be the first to map it properly 😉 Or possibly the navigation went wrong because some junction does or does not allow a specific turn in real. Or there’s a road which is missing in the map, etc. While you need to wait a couple of days for your changes to be committed to the live map it’s still much quicker than once-a-few-months updates of most traditional navigation systems.

Some hints on map editing:

  • Start with your neighbourhood – it will be the are you know the most and easiest for you to verify
  • Use a good, really good reference map – Google Maps and/or built-in satellite images is not always the case. My place’s city hall website provides a map covering roads even up to single parking place, along with proper street names and address numbers to use
  • Verify map vs reality – your references may not include road directionality and turn restrictions. See if there’s a detour because of road works. Check if something is actually drivable by car (not pedestrians-only) and if it’s a dirt road / 4×4 trail
  • Check-list after editing a road: 1. Check directionality. 2. Check all junctions‘ turns. 3. Check road type, level (almost always 0), street name and commit “no street” only if no addressable buildings are by it. Then – think about committing. It is important to do these checks, otherwise you may commit a road without a name, or a junction configured with no turns allowed and it will not be visible straight away (like with red – recorded – roads). Quality matters and saves headaches
  • Watch out for unconnected junctions – these are real pain, because they are not always visible at first. Just make sure all your connections are there. Start with “Enable all turns” on the junction and then selectively disable what you need.

How I personally see it – maybe in a bit philosophical way – it is another project taking advantage of community engagement. That seems to be the very same thing that is powering free/libre/open-source software (FLOSS) development around the world. And the overall benefits of the model are similar. You can access and edit and “distribute” freely (Waze – the map, FLOSS – the code). In both cases the functional outcome depends on contribution. The community engagement is driven by it. Sounds similar, right? Maybe except that editing maps seems much easier than digging in the code for most people. And both need to be done well to yield optimal results. It differs certainly in the way the code/map is distributed – not much of any kind of releases or commit control in case of Waze (but OK, there are Area Managers).

Happy wazing!


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Marcin Gałkowski

Seasoned admin, Linux hacker, Android fan, Gentoo enthusiast. Doing digital audio on Linux when time permits. At work: IT Team Lead (+labs, +datacenters...)

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