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Google is making a billion dollar bet on social navigation, opening a new front in the battle for mobile users.
The search and online advertising giant is close to acquiring Waze, an Israel-based crowdsourced navigation startup, according to a June 9 report in The Globes. Google is expected to spend $1.3 billion to seal the deal, indicated sources.
Waze offers a free turn-by-turn, social-enabled navigation app for Apple iOS and Google Android. The company, whose aim is to help its users "outsmart traffic," relies on real-time crowdsourced intelligence to alert drivers to traffic jams, road hazards and accidents.
A community of Waze map editors Waze helps users avoid routing mishaps due to outdated maps. According to the company, it's a social-powered capability is already proving its worth.
In a June 7 blog post, the company discussed how the Waze community was able to quickly update its maps in the wake of the I-5 bridge collapse in the state of Washington and the recent Oklahoma tornado.
Within minutes of the bridge collapse, Waze map editor and country manager Alan Akins went to work. "Before the day was done, the Waze map had been updated and Wazers were being routed around the collapsed bridge," blogged the company.
In Oklahoma, fellow map editor Jared Peacock updated Waze to help drivers safely negotiate the devastated areas. Waze explained that "he manipulated the unsafe roads on the Waze map editor so that people driving through the city would be routed around them, but also so that first responders and people living in the area could be routed on the perilous roads."
Additionally, the app can be used to coordinate group travel plans via Facebook. Waze also promotes savings by delivering efficient, gridlock-avoiding routes and displaying user-gathered gas prices.
Google wasn't the only tech giant with its eyes on Waze.
"Last year there were reports Apple wanted to buy Waze and in late August 2012, it was reported that Facebook was in talks to acquire the company. According to some reports, Facebook representatives arrived in Israel to meet Waze executives, but no deal was reached in the negotiations, apparently because of the price tag," wrote Hagai Golan and Tzahi Hoffman in their report.
Apple was also said to have expressed an interest in the company, however CEO Tim Cook asserted during the D11 conference in May that his company had not placed a bid for the startup.
Pedro Hernandez is a contributing editor at Datamation and InternetNews.com. Follow him on Twitter @ecoINSITE.