Waze – my experiences

The waze car logo showing a happy driving car


So I have been using Waze for a while now and wanted to document my experiences with it, and what I like about it, and where it is lacking. In Waze’s own words…

Waze is a free social mobile app that enables drivers to build and use live maps, real-time traffic updates and turn-by-turn navigation for an optimal commute.
100% powered by users the more you drive the better it gets.

Currently the community in Australia is small so it will take a while before Waze is very useful here. I believe that Waze are shooting themselvews in the foot by not encouraging more participation. I will try to summarize what I feel Waze are doing well and where they could do better.

Please note that Waze is a beta product so some of these observations should be considered in the light of this.

What Waze does right

Waze provides a free turn-by-turn GPS application for smart phones. These are not overly expensive, and my Android phone actually came with a free turn-by-turn GPS app so I don’t really need one. But for some this would be a bonus.

By gathering real time data Waze can in theory change the route it offers based upon traffic jams or other traffic issues encountered by other users. This is a difficult feature to test as there are so few routes I could actually get Waze to find instructions for. I do like the feature, so I have stuck with Waze to help build up a community of Australian users.

There is a nice feature for recording roads that Waze is unaware of so far. Once activated, the car icon that represents my car is replaced by a road grazer, and a new road is carved into the map. I don’t know why but I fiound this particularly satisfying. It would have been nice to see some little summary of how many metres I had graded so far as I carved new roads out.

There is the ability to report map issues and update house numbers from the GPS application.

A user can update the maps by using the Waze website. New roads can be added, they can be given names and some other map editing features, so the community can contribute to the whole system.

It is a satisfying feeling to feel you are contributing to a community, and a combinatin of these features helps to bring that feeling out.

Sometimes there are special icons you can drive by and get bonus points. A lot of these appeared at Easter, eggs, bunnies etc. These seem to have disappeared now and it has become just another GPS application.

Overall, that was about all I really found Waze did well.

Where Waze needs to improve

Waze starts out with some gamification elements, being an active user you get points and unlock a few achievements early on such as driving your first 5 kilometres, but then it all just stops. There is a dashboard that shows how many kilometres I have driven, how many new roads I have carved, how many map updates I have made etc. This information needs to be presented in a more friendly and attractive manner. I would like some more features local to the country I am in. For example, it would be great to see how may new roads I have carved out this week compared to other Australian drivers, or how many kilometres I drive compared to other local drivers.

I really do not get the feeling of being rewarded for contributing. I have carved a lot of new roads, and added a lot of roads on the map using the map editor, and named those roads. Most systems would reward you with unlocking some achievement levels, like “Congratulations, you have unlocked the ‘Master road builder level'”. There could be sneak previews of upcoming releases offered to the active users, or a notification ‘You are the second most active map editor in your area. If you had performed 10 more edits last week you would have been the number 1 map editor for the week’. Something to give me more enthusiasm. Without the feeling of some sort of community participation, it just feels like my time is being used to create maps for someone else to get rich from. Something desperately needs to be put back into the Waze users to encourage future participation.

The map editor is difficult to use. There are various editing panels that always appear on top of the map and dont remember their positions between sessions, so each time I try to edit I have to move them all afresh. When adding new roads the drop down for type of road displays ‘one way’ by default, require extra effort for almost every new road. It is very confusing working out how to make a ‘no right turn’ intersection. There seems to be no way to add street numbers using the map editor. This can be done via the app, but is unintuitive. The dashboard does not reflect any street number updates.

The smartphone app seems to be designed for the iPhone. Using it on an LG P500 Android device, the lists come out all screwy. The main app is OK. Some of the options are ignored when set. Overall it is not too bad, but not really designed with usability in mind. I would like to be able to edit street names from the app but this is not available.

There is a ping feature allowing drivers to ping each other and send messages. This to me seems ill thought out. For a start it is just outright dangerous. It is probably OK if a  never passenger does the pinging, but I couldn’t really see the point of this.

When driving, there should be an easy way to report a ‘No right turn’ street, but unfortunately there isn’t.

The website is not updated regularly enough.  The updates feel more like semi-advertisements than true updates.  Waze claim to be using game mechanics, but they seem to be failing. They really need to acknowledge their community a lot more if they want to get more back in return.

The website should include a ‘remember me’ feature. It is frustrating to have to log back in all the time.

The website needs to be less United States-centric. For example when going to the ‘Community’ section, the users country preference is ignored and only US map fixing options are presented. This is very frustrating as it ensures Australian road fixes will progress a lot slower than they could be. This page is just plain unusable for Australian users as it probably is for any non-US drivers.

Other features that could be implemented

I have always been fascinated by what roads I have never driven on before, it would be great to get an overlay in a different colour of roads I have visited, so occaisionally I could go experimenting with raods I have never visited before.

A much improved dashboard that allows map editors to compete to improve the whole map structure.

A regularly updated website.

Improved Android support

More communication with the More reaching out, greater incorporation of gaming mechanics in tasks. Waze needs to see the community more as a community of people contributing their time and effort to Waze, rather than just a free labour force.

Empire Avenue – social networking in a share trading context

A screenshot of social network activity in Empire Avenue

Social network activity in Empire Avenue

Empire Avenue is a social game which aims to connect people together via their social networks. It works like a stock market where you buy and sell shares in other Empire Avenue members. The best people to invest in are the producers and influencers, people who make a lot of Facebook and LinkedIn updates, who use Twitter regularly, upload videos or comment on YouTube and share pictures on Flickr. The more a member interacts with social media and the more they inteeract in Empire Avenue, the higher their share price goes. By investing in people who are active you can build up a portfolo and earn Eaves, the currency in Empire Avenue.

This is a free website, but you can buy additional Eaves for real money.  Quite why you would want to do this I am not sure, it strikes me a little like those services that offer Twitter followers or Facebook friends for a fee.

Empire Avenue is a strangely compelling website. It makes great use of gamification elements and allows a member to easily post all their actions and updates and unlocks to their social network accounts. The list of social networks is limited to those listed above. This is a little frustrating as for instance I use Picasa for my photos and won’t be changing to Flickr just for Empire Avenue. Each time an account is linked, an achievement is unlocked. Achievements can be unlocked by writing blog entries, performing a certain number of share transactions, joining communities etc.

There is also an element of business social media similar to the way companies have a presence on Facebook. So far I haven’t really worked out what the companies are doing here but as Empire Avenue seems to be thriving I guess they are scared of missing out on something that could be potentially huge.

A screenshot showing the share prices for a member on Empire Avenue
Empire Avenue share prices

There is a lot of potential here, Empire Avenue is another way of finding people, working, working out who are the thinkers and influencers in areas of interest and has potential for linking people by interest, geography, profession etc. I am undecided on members being able to buy extra Eaves sa it seems to be a little too much like buying influence. However I can see that Empire Avenue have to make some money somehow. I will keep having fun using this site for at least a few weeks before I can really be certain whether I want to continue. I think this might just fill a gap for me. I don’t really like Facebook, it just doesn’t do it for me. I like Twitter but there is a very low signal-to-noise ration. Yammer is fantastic but is locked to my professional life. This seems to be a nice umbrella for all these services and networks, and creates a fun environment to aggregate them all together.

You can view my Empire Avenue profile if you would like. Invest in me if you wish, I may just make you some Eaves!


Chore wars – making housework fun

For the last two weeks I have been experimenting with Chore Wars as a way of getting my children to be more involved with housework. The premise is fairly simple but really appeals to the kids. It reminds me a little of Super Nanny, where a formalised way of recording the kids activities helps them on the path to a reward.

By performing tasks that can be configured easily they can be given XP points (eXperience points). The longer they play and the more XP they gain, the more levels can be unlocked. This really appeals to their love of gaming.

Initially my 8 year old was the most excited, running around making his bed, doing dishes, wiping benches, all with a big smile on, I couldn’t believe my eyes! My 12 year old who was in a bad mood with me at the time was doing his most to try to discourage the younger son, but I knew that given time he would come over. A few times I caught him on the site, but without any real movement. Due to some issues today, I blocked runescape for him, and he came up and asked me if I would unblock it if he gained 100 XP. After asking him what would be involved in gaining 100 XP, he had clearly checked the site out well as he listed the tasks he would do, among them was cleaning the bathroom and cleaning up the dog poo. As he was explaining it to me he had a huge smile on his face and couldn’t wait to get on the job. Never have I seen a child smiling explaining that they want to clean up dog poo! My hat is tipped to Chore Wars.

The game was created by Kevan Davis in 2007. It is free to join up, and there is also a gold option which for a one off fee of $USD 10 will unlock extra statistics.