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App of the Week: Waze Navigation

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Waze Navigation App

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Some things are best done as part of a community.

Waze, a crowd-generated traffic map for iPhone, Android and Windows Phone, demonstrates that notion by providing live traffic reports as well a wide variety of information about roads and highways contributed by its members. Drivers can report information about road closures, accidents, police activity and other hazards that might delay travel, and the app shares that information with nearby users and plans routes accordingly.

The Israel-based software developer LinQmap released the app in 2008, and since then the user base has grown to over 50 million people. The large user base means more reports on the road and more confirmations of those reports. Google, which acquired the app last year for nearly $1 billion, incorporated Waze reports into its Google Maps web application, allowing it to incorporate real-time reports into its maps and routes.

Waze also lets users share their tips with friends and family, allowing for a collaborative travel experience. The app also features the ability to send your location to friends added on the app, making it easier to get driving directions for picking up a friend without needing to know the exact address. For users driving by themselves, they can email or text locations or share an interactive map displaying the drive and estimated time of arrival. Users who link Waze to Facebook can use the social media service's events feature to coordinate with other attendees when driving to an event.

While the app is free to download to use, its profits come from location-based advertising, which displays nearby businesses along the route when users aren't moving. The app encourages people to continue using it with its ranking system, which improves based on number of incidents reported or miles driven using the app. Advanced users can submit gas prices, submit incident reports that need less validation or have custom icons on maps for friends and nearby users to see.

The crowd-sourced information model employed by Waze has flaws as two Israeli programming students demonstrated last month by creating a fake traffic jam within the app. The students spoofed Android phones and published fake incidents on Waze, highlighting the possibility malicious users abusing the reporting system. At the same time, the app creates driving hazards if individuals use the app on their smartphones while driving (though the app displays warnings against doing so if used while moving).

Despite these shortcomings, the app creates smarter driving patterns for its users, giving the power of information while on the road. The app is a must-have for smartphone owners, whether its for short trips to and from work or long drives across the country.

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