Geolocation done right

by Ike Pigott |

There’s an old maxim in television newsrooms, that you’re not going to get the audience’s attention unless you clearly sell the WIIFM.

(What’s In It For Me.)

That’s been the failing of so many services within the social media space. It took Twitter more than three years to brand itself as a platform for news. For the longest time, it floundered as people stared at that “What are you doing?” prompt and still didn’t know what the service was about. Twitter is the exception, as most networks that don’t enunciate the WIIFM eventually die.

We know that Geo-location isn’t going anywhere, but there’s no guarantee that any one of the current networks will still be with us in 2013. Gowalla, Foursquare, Yelp, Facebook Places — we don’t know what’s going to stick, because most of us have no idea what they are for.

(Hint: If done right, they deliver relevant information to you only when you’re close enough to give a crap. If done wrong, they pollute your stream and your network with another layer of minutae and noise.)

What IS In It?

The killer feature for those mentioned above is delivering helpful information. Right now, though, it seems everyone is locked into silly games about Mayorships, and unless you are the one with the crown there’s very little in it for you.

Enter Waze.

Waze is a social network built not around where you are, but where you are going.

There are apps covering all the major smart-phone platforms, and the apps all share some great features:

  • GPS Integration
  • Search
  • Real-time traffic data
  • Routing
  • Foursquare check-in integration

Having been pleased with the competition between Bing and Google Maps on my device, I was surprised to find that little Waze had better turn-by-turn speech synthesis than either.

What makes Waze special, however, is the social aspect. The more users there are on the roads where you’re headed, the more data there is about congestion. Waze knows when you’re slow on the interstate, and adds that to the database. When Waze calculates your best route, it takes recent traffic into consideration.

What’s really exciting is the Groups feature which is relatively new. By letting companies, neighbors, or just area residents talk to one another, you’ve now got a network of hyper-relevant information that actually has an answer to “What’s In It For Me?”

A Work In Progress

I don’t want to get your hopes up, because in many ways Waze is not a polished product.

The routing isn’t perfect, although it does learn the more you use it.

There are mechanisms for you to report (finger-friendly) instances on the map where turns are disallowed, or new roads need to be drawn. It may take a few days, but volunteers and employees do make those changes (and you can log in on the website and do it yourself.) Not a bad deal, considering they are starting with open source maps and improving the product. Waze also has a built-in system that prevents you from texting while driving: when the vehicle is in motion, you’re locked out of the keyboard to enter additional info. (There is a setting for a passenger to do the typing for you, but I think that’s a responsible move, as most of the data is shared with no action on your part, and the active reporting is simple taps.)

I found the Foursquare integration important, because the last thing you want to do is close out a navigation app and open something else, when the app you’re in already knows where you are. (I also found it to be faster than many dedicated Foursquare apps on my device.)

This isn’t a rant about the relative uselessness of the “Badge-hunt” services like Foursquare. Certainly it’s important to offer early users a premium to get them to populate the database with the useful information. I would say, though, that the all-or-nothing nature of Foursquare’s system (as most often implemented) is a huge turn-off to new users, or those who visit a particular place infrequently.

Waze does use incentives to attract users. You’ll find on your map a number of items that you can drive over to collect points. You also earn points for using Waze during your commute, “munching” new roads, reporting irregularities and accidents. But the nice thing is that even if you aren’t winning in a points race, you’re getting benefit from the other users in your area who are both actively and passively sharing useful information. And the more you use it, the more you’re sharing back too.

In other words, Waze gets a lot of things right about the “Social” aspect, and might be the first of an emerging class of Social Tools.

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About the Author

Ike Pigott

In his previous life, Ike Pigott was an Emmy-winning TV reporter, who turned his insider's knowledge of the news cycle into a crisis communications consultancy. At the American Red Cross, serving as Communication and Government Relations Director for five southeastern states, Ike pioneered the use of social media in disaster. Now -- by day -- he is a communications strategist for Alabama Power and a Social Media Apologist; by night, he lurks at Occam's RazR, where he writes about the overlaps and absurdities in communications, technology, journalism and society. Find out how you can connect with Ike or follow him on Twitter at @ikepigott. He also recently won the coveted "Social Media Explorer contributing writer with the longest Bio" award.