Google has increased the number of ways in which everyday users can improve and contribute to Maps data. For example, reviews of restaurants, hotels and other services on Google+ Local appear in Maps.
People can take photo sphere pictures with their phones and upload them into Maps. That enables anyone to click on a user-generated photo sphere and look around in 360 degrees.
The Maps view itself offers a “Report a data problem” feature in which anyone can alert Google to something that needs to be corrected.
But Google’s acquisition of Waze this week brings the ability of users to upload data into Google to a new level.
Waze is a five-year-old Israel-based startup. Google did not disclose the acquisition terms, but early reports suggest a price well over one billion dollars. Both Facebook and Apple tried unsuccessfully to buy it.
Waze is a free, ad-supported smartphone app. It’s believed to have somewhere between 20 million and 50 million users worldwide.
Waze gives users directions, including turn-by-turn directions. But it also tells you what’s going on with the traffic and other real-time facts you might care about. It gets this information from other users.
For example, the Waze app constantly monitors the speed of your phone and thereby the speed of your car. When many cars are going 15 miles an hour on one stretch of freeway, Waze displays that information to other drivers.
There is also an opportunity for Waze users to update real-time information manually, for example accidents, the location of police cars and corrected road and address information.
Although Google said Waze would remain independent, it’s likely that both Waze data and Waze infrastructure for social reporting might be baked into Google Maps. In the future, the mobile social aspects could be folded into Google+.
For example, as you’re looking at Maps, traffic accidents will appear on the maps seconds after they’ve happened and the slowing traffic reported with close to exact traffic speeds. Gas prices will be updated in real-time as they change. Road closures and detours will cause your turn-by-turn directions to adjust in real time.
You’ll even be able to start instantly chatting with other people stuck in the same traffic jam.
Ultimately, however, Waze will make Google Maps a two-way street, as it were. Simply using Maps with a smartphone—and simply using Android, Google+, Google+ Local and many other Google products—will feed Google’s hungry new Maps platform with more real-time data, improving the information for everybody.
We don’t know where this new Maps concept will go. But we know the direction it’s going in—Maps is becoming a largely user-generated, 3D, virtual reality simulation of the real world.