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The Real Reason Google Spent $1B to Acquire Waze

July 27, 2013

Google and Waze: perfect together

Introduction

According to their website, Waze is “the world’s fastest-growing community-based traffic and navigation app.” In June 2013, Google acquired Waze for $1B. One might speculate that the acquisition was based around:

  1. The navigation app.
  2. The potential to integrate the technology into Google Maps.
  3. Bringing social networking to navigation.
  4. The loyal following of the user base.

These items don’t add up to one billion dollars, however. Here’s my take on the acquisition:

Google’s acquisition of Waze is an investment (and bet) on where technology is headed.

In other words, Waze fits into Google’s product vision.

A Personal Story

I was driving home from Lake Tahoe with friends. We wanted to stop for dinner. Spread across three cars, we decided to meet directly at the restaurant. I had never been to this particular restaurant, so I entered the address into Waze.

My friends had been to the restaurant, so they were not using navigation. A major traffic jam developed on Interstate 80. Meanwhile, Waze routed me around the jam by taking me towards Sacramento, directing me down Highway 5, then connecting back to Interstate 80.

Life is good. Traffic is not.

Photo credit: Flickr user epSos.de via photopin cc

I bypassed the entire traffic jam and arrived at the restaurant 45 minutes before my friends. They had to sit in stop-and-go traffic for 45 minutes. I got to avoid it. For this particular moment, Waze improved my quality of life.

Waze has intelligently re-routed me a few more times since then. Often, the re-routing occurs before you even see the onset of traffic. Waze notifies you of the route change and lists the estimated amount of time you’ll save on the new route. It’s amazing.

How Waze Relates to Google’s Future

Recall Google’s mission:

To organize the world’s information and make it universally accessible and useful.

This is precisely where Waze comes into play.

Organizing the world's data

In Web 1.0, the world’s information was published online via the World Wide Web. Some ten years later, Web 2.0 emerged, in which web content was supplemented by user generated content.

Today, we’re starting to evolve into Web 3.0: user and machine-generated data.

And that’s what Waze is all about. As you drive, you generate data (accident reports, traffic reports, validation of accident reports) and your phone generates data by way of the “machine” (your car) it’s traveling in (direction, route and speed).

The value in Waze is its ability to organize this information and make it accessible and useful to its users.

Google acquired Waze for its real-time, back-end tracking system that intelligently manages data flows from millions of simultaneous users (and makes sense out of that data).

In other words, it organizes the (driving) world’s information and makes it universally accessible and useful. This sophisticated and intelligent data management system can be applied to many other use cases beyond navigation.

The Future of Organizing Data

To date, Google has been wildly successful at organizing the web’s information. Going forward, they’ll look to extend beyond the web to any entity that emits data (e.g. devices, people, etc.). And the $1B “bet” on Waze fits this vision. Let’s consider how this relates to navigation:

The evolution of navigation

In Navigation 1.0, the GPS system got you to your destination. With apps like Waze, you get there quicker. Next, “organizing data” will help us find interesting stops (along the way to our destination) and help us build better highways.

Where might Google venture from here? The first one is quite obvious:

  1. Driverless cars.
  2. Healthcare.
  3. Smart homes.
  4. Local or national government.
  5. Sporting events.

[Related article: A Self-Driving Car Will Create 1 Gigabyte of Data Per Second]

Imagine a “Waze-like app” inside each driverless car. As the driverless cars drive, they’ll generate the same sort of data that Waze users do today and receive similar benefits (e.g. where to turn, where to park, where to go when the gas is low, etc.).

Conclusion

Ever sit in traffic for an hour? It’s so frustrating. It’s not just wasted time, it’s also the stop-and-go activity of driving that wears you out. Waze can help me avoid the traffic and give me back an hour of my day. That’s a quality of life improvement.

To date, Google organized data to help me find information on the web. Going forward, they’ll organize data to help improve quality of life.

Commentary from the Community

I invited Twitter users to chime in with their opinions on why Google acquired Waze. Here’s what they tweeted.

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The Cost of Convenience on Social Networks

October 11, 2012

Introduction

Technology can do great things. It can save you time and save you money. With social media, it can connect you (via the device in your pocket) to people around the world – people you otherwise would never have “met.” But is there a drawback or cost to the convenience that technology provides?

An Example: The GPS

Consider the GPS (Global Positioning System). When I purchased my first GPS unit in 2005, I thought it was the world’s finest invention. Whether I was driving near home or in a remote town, I could plug in a street address and this magical device would take me there, turn by turn.

When I moved to the West Coast a few years later, my handy GPS helped me get around my new surroundings, from the department store to the movie theater to my new favorite restaurants. But now that I’ve been out West for five years, I’m finding a “cost” for the GPS that goes beyond the retail cost.

The “cost” was a dependence on this technological marvel, which meant that I didn’t truly know my own surroundings. Instead, I’d have the radio on, take the turns that the GPS called out, but not pay attention to the route I was taking (and, as a side note, I’ve since switched from a GPS device to the excellent Waze app on my iPhone).

Now, if I’m driving locally to a place I’ve never been before, I’ll plug the destination address into Google Maps and review the route. Then, I’ll drive to my destination without any technological guidance. And I find that curbing my dependence on the GPS has helped me better learn the local roads and routes. And not to worry, Waze – you’ll still come along for the ride when I go out of town.

Now, let’s consider the cost of convenience on social networks.

Liking a Comment on Facebook.

In 2010, Facebook rolled out the “Like” button on Comments. At first, I found this a bit curious: you have a button to “Like” the original post and now, Facebook is allowing you to “Like” interactions beneath that post. As I started using it, however, I discovered its elegance: you (the poster) could acknowledge interesting or witty comments with the click of a mouse.

The person whose Comment you Liked would see your action and perhaps they’d become more inclined to comment on your subsequent posts. There have been occasions where I ponder how to respond to a comment I’ve received. If it was a witty comment, I feel the need to return the favor with something equally witty. I’ll occasionally get “stuck,” and not know what to say. So instead I simply click “Like” (on the comment) and I’m done.

So what’s the cost? More substantial and meaningful interactions between you and the commenter.

Twitter’s Retweet Button.

In 2009, Twitter rolled out the retweet button (and function). The retweet (or, “RT” for short) was a capability conceived by Twitter’s users. And prior to the retweet button (or, the equivalent function in Twitter clients), users had to manually compose retweet’s by copying the tweet content, then sticking a “RT @USER” in front of the tweet.

The retweet function made it super convenient. With two clicks of the mouse (the first to retweet, the second to confirm it), you just published a tweet, while promoting the original tweet content. Because the retweet preserves 100% of the original tweet, the cost of this convenience is an absence of commentary (from you).

When I want to add my own thoughts (e.g. “Great post” or “Excellent points”) on a retweet, I’ll manually compose it (with a copy/paste of the original tweet), then change the “RT” to “MT” (for “Modified Tweet”). This makes the process less convenient, but I find the additional commentary worth it (and I bet the original tweeter may as well).

Location-based Checkins.

Location-based check-ins began on services like Foursquare. Their purpose was to alert friends (on the service) of your location. Perhaps you’re at Happy Hour and you see that some friends just checked in from the watering hole down the street. So you go there to find them.

So that was the original point – and a fine point it was. Soon, services such as Foursquare enabled you to broadcast your check-in to your social media accounts. And our tweet stream started to get filled up with tweets, like those shown above.

So the cost of the check-in convenience is a proliferation of rather trivial tweets. If I’m following you on Foursquare, then yes, a check-in is meaningful. However, if I’m following you on Twitter (only), your location at this particular point in time isn’t meaningful.

Facebook Check-ins

Similarly, Facebook has a check-in feature that enables you to list your location, along with tagging Facebook friends that you happen to be with. For friends and family on Facebook, I am, in fact, more interested in where you happen to be.

But, the convenience of the check-in means that more significant and meaningful descriptions (of  your location) go by the wayside. For instance, compare these two Facebook posts:

And here’s the more convenient one:

“Climbing to the peak – at Mount Everest”

Photo Uploads.

Don’t get me wrong: photos are great and pictures are, in fact, worth 1,000 words (or more). Sometimes, however, the convenience of uploading 50 pictures (to an album on Facebook) gives you the “excuse” that the pictures can tell the story (on their own). If a picture is worth 1,000 words, couldn’t you at least tag each one with 140 characters?

Conclusion

On the social web, we’re able to make connections and have interactions with people from across the globe. For me, that makes old fashioned, face-to-face interactions all the more meaningful. Similarly, the ease with which we can post, share, re-post and re-share on social networks means that we miss out on more meaningful dialog and interactions. This “cost tradeoff” is something to keep in mind as social networks continue to grow and evolve.

Note: I invite you to connect with me on .


How Location Awareness And Augmented Reality Can Be Leveraged For Events

November 24, 2009

Photo source: Layar.com

With the addition of a compass, GPS and associated software, the PDA/smartphone has become as powerful as ever.  Services are emerging that blend social networking and location awareness (e.g. Foursquare, Google Latitude) – in addition, augmented reality has received a lot of recent attention.  Amsterdam-based Layar has interesting technology that they call Layar Reality Browser – Version 2.0 (a mobile, augmented reality browser).

How could location awareness and augmented reality apply to events and trade shows?

Event Check-In

Source: flickr (User: Buckeye Beth)

Event planners could partner with location awareness providers to determine which registrants have appeared on site.  Attendees would need to register and opt-in to the location awareness service – but once they do, the technology can determine who’s on site and provide automated check-in.  Imagine arriving at the event, skipping past the long check-in line and going straight to a self-service kiosk, where you can print your event badge.  Once you have your badge printed, perhaps the event planner disables the location service, to give attendees the reassurance that they’re not being watched, a la Big Brother.

Eco-friendly maps

Photo source: Layar.com

You’re at the main lobby of the event – imagine holding up your PDA and having a map appear of the venue.  You no longer need to ask where the keynote session is being held – your PDA can map it for you – and perhaps guide you right there via its GPS function.  Such a service would make support overhead more efficient (less staff required to direct attendees) and be eco-friendly, since the printed event guide (and map) may no longer be required.

Augmented Reality at Exhibitor Booths

For trade shows that include exhibitor booths, augmented reality provides for some interesting possibilities.  I’m standing at the event’s most popular booth – the event staff is swarmed with visitors and I have to wait in line to speak to the exhibitor and/or get my product demo.  While I’m waiting, I bring up the augmented reality app on my PDA – it shows an image of the physical booth (right in front of me) with the following information overlaid:

  1. Related content from the exhibitor that I can view (right now) from my PDA – documents, white papers, on-demand videos, etc.
  2. Bios/profiles of event staffers who are in the booth right now – so I know that the most popular demo is being given by the exhibitor company’s Senior Product Manager for Mobile – I can view his LinkedIn profile, so that when my turn comes, I already know that we have a connection in common.
  3. An option to view the demo – perhaps the physical booth demos are being streamed out to the web – e.g.  into a hybrid virtual event.  With a click, I’m able to view the live stream of the demo via my PDA.  I’ll admit, it’s an odd thought to watch a live demo that’s occurring a few feet from you – but sometimes at events, it is truly hard to see the demo from the back of an assembled crowd.
  4. An option to join a text chat with a virtual booth staffer – again, in a concurrent virtual event, perhaps the exhibitor supplements their physical staffers with online staffers in the virtual environment.

Social gaming and following friends/colleagues

Events could incorporate a gaming aspect, with points tied to actions – and activity tracked via location awareness.  Exhibitors no longer need to scan an attendee’s badge – instead, the location awareness service tracks which booths they’ve visited.  Safeguards need to be established, of course, to ensure that a booth visit was real/substantial, as opposed to a “drive by”.  To use a Foursquare analogy, perhaps exhibitors offer a grand prize (e.g. HDTV) and award that to the attendee who holds the title of “mayor” (of that booth) at the conclusion of the event.

In a sales meeting, on the other hand, you often have colleagues who want to attend sessions together – instead of texting or IM’ing to coordinate meet-ups, a location awareness service (think Google Latitude) can allow opted-in attendees to track one another’s location on the show floor.  If your colleague is spending too long on line for coffee, go grab him so that you’re both not late to your boss’ presentation.

The important stuff – food!

Photo source: Layar.com

Layar, Yelp and Urbanspoon have all released augmented reality apps related to restaurants.  Whether it’s lunch during the event or dinner afterwards, you’ll always be a few augmented clicks away from knowing where’s the best burger, steak or burrito.

Perhaps what we need is a conference on augmented reality and location awareness – where all of this becomes reality!


Utilize Surveys in Virtual Events

December 19, 2008

Online marketers often speak of hard ROI (explicit return) and soft ROI.  In this economic climate, soft ROI is being cut and marketers are focusing (with rare exception) on hard ROI.  But what if you could generate hard ROI and soft ROI simultaneously?  Would your CMO or CFO like that?  I’d bet that the CMO would, at minimum.

So consider the use of surveys within your virtual events.  Let’s say you generated 200 visitors to your booth.  And let’s say 70% of those visitors completed an online survey that was available right there in your booth (equalling 140 survey completes).  You might think I’m crazy to suggest that 70% of visitors would actually fill out a survey.  But what if you provided a prize?  And, you qualified visitors into the prize drawing via completion of the survey?  I’ve seen it with my own two eyes – one particular event had 70% of booths visitors completing the exhibitors’ in-booth survey (i.e. for those who chose to utilize a survey).

140 survey completes results in a statistically significant sample size.  And you’re likely not going to generate such a high response rate if you message to these visitors post-event.  Here are my Top 3 reasons for doing a survey in a virtual event:

  1. Plan your marketing content – let your target audience tell you what they’re interested in, what media formats they like to consume, what content they want (from you)  as they evaluate your products and services.  Leverage this valuable information to plan your White Papers, webinars and follow-on virtual events.
  2. Generate insights for your Product Manager – partner with your company’s product managers and ask them what info they’d like from customers and prospective customers.  You’d be a hero to Product Management and the success will certainly bubble up to the CMO or VP of Products.  And, by the way, this may help your company design better products.
  3. Intelligent lead follow-up –  survey questions are very similar to the qualifying questions that online marketers use on lead gen registration forms.   Don’t be afraid to review individual survey responses to better plan your lead follow-up with selected leads.

Now, what’s the cost of doing the survey?  Well, the prize will set you back a few hundred dollars (e.g. for a GPS, Nintendo Wii, iPod, etc.).  When evaluated against the soft ROI you can  generate,  I think the investment is worth it.  As Richard Dawson may ask, “Survey says?” – YES.


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