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Waze, the company that’s specialized in providing crowdsourced driving directions, is venturing deeper into the social sphere by integrating Twitter and Facebook into the service.
The Palo Alto, Calif.-based startup, which also has offices in Israel, is building what it calls a geo-community: Users are creating content for the service by leaving the app running, feeding traffic and map information into Waze for other users to access. Now, Waze wants to beef up social navigation with real-time messages and information on friends’ whereabouts.
Twitter has had geo-tags, or location information attached to the tweets users post on the microblogging service, for a while. Waze is utilizing that feature. Tweets that have a geo-tag will be displayed on the Waze map, enabling users to report on traffic congestion, roadside accidents or weather conditions in almost real-time. The system looks for tweets marked with the hashtag code #wazelive, which can then be displayed to other users to show tweets that are relevant to their route. The tweets Waze displays are from users of the app as well as official sources like the Department of Transportation.
According to Waze VP community geographer Di-Ann Eisnor, Waze is trying to make time spent in the car more informative and interactive – while being safe. Tweets can be a driver’s “eyes and ears on the road,” said Eisnor.
“Twitter has taken the geo-community vision and brought it to many more people,” explained Eisnor. “I see Twitter becoming a kind of geo-infrastructure, particularly for cities. I see roads, bridges, landmarks and exits becoming entities that tweet.”
Eisnor pointed out that the real-time relevance and location of tweets are what create “real value” to a service like this.
And Twitter is happy to see people using its technology in novel ways. The more interesting apps are the ones that go beyond just using the Twitter stream and try to create broader experiences, with a Twitter dimension to them, said Othman Laraki, director of geo, the industry’s shorthand term for location-based services, at Twitter.
”Twitter is obviously about user-generated content and community, and I think the ability for users to create interesting content is one of the mechanisms that will have a big impact on geo,” said Laraki. “The community can provide information on things where getting information would previously have been expensive or not viable in other ways.”
While the idea of bridges that tweet are definitely “very interesting” to Laraki, the industry is in the very early stages of seeing fast, real-time communication being merged with geo data.
“Geo is similar to the social networking apps in the sense that it will become a part of the infrastructure in a few years,” said Laraki. “Now, geo is a novel thing that is taking advantage of the fact that mobile phones can easily provide lat-long information, but in the future it will be an assumed part of the infrastructure on top of which people build their apps.”
And the way Waze’s Eisnor sees it, navigation is going from something that’s used once every few weeks to something that’s part of everyday life: “It will be navigation the way you need it and want it: informed, connected, and, yes, social.”
As for the Facebook integration, Waze users can provide their Facebook information to the Waze app and have images of their friends displayed on the map. Users can conceivably see which of their friends are nearby, or maybe driving to the same beach.
“We’re living in a world where we can spontaneously run into our friends and connect with them – the car should be the same,” Eisnor mused.
Crucially, because Waze is designed to passively broadcast a user’s location, it takes advantage of the ability to run in the background on updated iPhones. That feature was already available for Waze’s Android app. And if you’re a fan of drivers keeping both hands on the wheel, Waze’s location-broadcasting model makes a lot more sense than the active check-in process of services like Foursquare.
Waze even has that angle covered, though: The new version also includes integration with the location-based check-in service Foursquare (users can announce their locations to friends with the Waze app and earn badges on Foursquare).
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