So on a bright November’s day in the heart of Paris, 25 noble European wazers gathered to meet 4 of Waze HQ’s finest. Representing the company were Chief Technology Officer and founder Ehud Shabtai
, VP of Product & Marketing Yael Elish
, VP of Community Operations Fej Shmuelevitz
and last but by no means least the towering Head of Support & QA Dror Cohen
The subsequent 6 hours flew past, thankfully the coffee was strong, the nibbles were sweet and the information flow was like lightning. What follows is my account of the proceedings, I wish we could have covered more, between us we easily could have filled the whole weekend. I think, I hope we managed to get across our most important queries, concerns and even a little praise. The response from the Waze team was encouraging, engaging and I believe left most of us with a feeling that there really is a fine but well-tuned balance there between Monetization vs a thoroughly enjoyable and free app; between a push for users vs a push for stability; between drivers vs editors.User base
o Waze is currently adding 60-70k users per day and is in the throes of hockey-stick growth. Waze’s first 3 million users took over two years to accumulate, the second 3 million took less than 6 months. The latest 3 million took just 2 months.
o UK has over 300k users now and 25% of those users use the app at least twice a week.
o Current target is for 30 million users worldwide by the end of 2012! To compare it took Twitter four years to reach 26 million monthly active users! Facebook took two years to reach 10.5 million monthly active users. That’s some good company to be keeping! Server status
o Obviously these sorts of numbers might worry many of us. And rightfully so. AWS Ireland appears to have been an awakening and the need for server redundancy is clearly paramount now. No one server farm is now critical and although a similar catastrophe would still (currently) involve a small amount of manual intervention there is scope to very quickly switch to alternative resources.
o Kieranrawley raised the question of distributed computing to assist the waze servers. Ehud stressed that not only were all servers currently running well under capacity but all re-written processes were now fully scalable meaning an influx of users simply means an increase in servers. This was not the case pre-carmageddon, pre-v3.0, pre app-store featuring.
o As such, routing errors should not be happening (assuming network coverage). If persistent errors are encountered please note the origin, destination and time (GMT) of your request and email to support.
o The team denied my aspersion that the North American server was a playground for developers allowing new ideas to be tested on a smaller, less complex base before letting loose en masse. Each new feature is added to the server that is currently best suited in terms of existing features but most importantly current stability.
o The Map Problems layer will arrive on the world server in due course.
o Road Shields are already a possibility on the world server and simply require graphics to be determined and drawn up. Yael will look into the best way to organise this. Tiles/Updates
o Current sync errors when using Papyrus (ghost segments & unselectable/uneditable segments) are due to a mixture of legacy and reconstructed tile versions. A complete re-index of map tiles is required to fix this which will take a couple of days and will begin once developers are confident that it will not have further unintended consequences.
o UK#1 Faitaru and World #1 Asterix06 then played a battle of the flipchart to describe the number of problems that roundabouts present to editors. During the entertainment I neglected to pay attention to any conclusions that were made. I will update here once someone reminds me!Edit: So as I was reminded below, we all agreed that roundabouts should be kept simple rather than adding lots of split lanes for entrances and exits. Also we require the ability for Papyrus to partially delete roundabouts which have become corrupted. Ehud also agreed to look into allowing us to turn a loop of non-roundabout segments into a fully working roundabout rather than rebuilding from scratch!
o The short-term goal is for regular, reliable and predictable update sequences. 48 hours to begin with, working towards 24 hours.Points
o Once processes reach stability the current process rewrites will allow most points processes (driving, candies, reports) to become near real-time!
o Points for Chit Chats will be removed. This should have happened in iOS v3.0 but was missed.
o Instead points will be awarded for “Thanks” on your reports. I think this needs to be done carefully to ensure no advantage is given to densely populated areas vs more rural parts.App
o Corner smoothing, one of many points expertly presented by Asterix06, were acknowledged as an issue on v3.0 and will be corrected in an upcoming update.
o Edit (via Dave2084): There was also a discussion about toll roads, I think the outcome was that they would be added sooner rather than later but other special road types (eg emergency services access, bus lanes etc) are much further away.
o Social networking will be reworked making better use of APIs. Twitter and Google+ friend lists will be introduced in addition to Facebook. I also hope that posting across the services will become more granular and user-controllable but may not have stressed this enough at the time.
o Wroadd updated us on his “Feed the Waze” project which looks to pull data such as Roadworks from official/government sources and inject them into the system. I have personally seen the effects of Peter’s hard work in this area and was pleased to hear it gain official praise from the team as well as a great deal of interest from the group - Peter you have some busy times ahead! Editor revamp
o “Papyrus” is still a working title for the new editor. Both Papyrus and Cartouche are used in-house but rumour has it the lead developer does not like the former!
o A complete overhaul of the UR/AM system is planned with the primary aim to vastly increase communication and visibility between editors and users.
o Early plans include wazers being able to mark themselves as either available or looking for help.
o I still hope that new editors will be introduced/ushered toward experienced Area or Country Managers.
o Where an incorrect direction/route is indicated the AM/editor will be shown the instructions the reporter received as well as the route they subsequently took.
o A heatmap will show areas that are currently or have recently been edited
o As I understand it users will be able to chat live as well as leave user notes for future reference.
o Permission levels will be clearly displayed on the left panel and should unambiguously show what that level allows the editor to do.
o GPS points will be tweaked – currently 30 days worth of tracks are retained across the board. Going forward, more densely travelled routes will be much shorter-term while those less travelled will be held on the system for longer providing a more useful split.
o GPS points will also be cached by the browser to greatly enhance performance. This cache will be refreshed fairly frequently.
o Several people queried why the editor window could not be resized. Ehud explained that increasing the size greatly reduces performance. It could be worked on in the future but is not currently a priority.
o The whole room agreed the “General Error” report was virtually useless. Ehud agreed to have it removed.
o I queried to Ehud why there was a reluctance to allow new roads (editor vs recorded) to be 2-way as well as junctions to allow all turns by default. He stressed again their desire to err on the side of caution but agreed to look into allowing this as a user preference albeit perhaps for experienced/higher ranked editors only to begin with.
o The team were very keen to encourage user plugins. Both the recently developed Papyrus plugin for identifying street/city names (sorry I forget the name of the creator) and Timbones’ brand new Livemap plugin to show navigation directions returned by the routing server received the plaudits.Support
o alpha @ waze.com will be retired and in future a dedicated address for Mega-wazers will likely be introduced.
o General support will be in the form of a ticketing system. This will be primarily manned by users with Support staff intervening or verifying where necessary.
o New-style videos are in the process of being created for the new editor (much like for v3.0)
o Staff will try to take a more active involvement in creating wiki sections including a more thorough FAQ page.Need to start monetizing.
o Primarily through partnerships eg Waze reporters in Israel. Early plans for tie-ins with 8 tv channels in the US and similar hopes for Europe. These partnerships will be two-way providing, for waze, revenue, data and publicity.
o Mild advertising will be used in the app and has already been trialled with, eg, WeBuyAnyCar.com in the UK. Ads will be limited to a maximum of 4 “per area” to avoid the appearance of spamming and a reduction in signal-to-noise.
o Advertising will be on a bid-up process in the background to maximise value to Waze.
o Yeal is keen to hear of any such ideas or opportunities!
Like the meeting itself, my summary is in no way exhaustive. I have definitely missed some points and I don’t doubt that others will be able to fill gaps as well as take some off at complete (and valid) tangents. If I can expand on any of the points don’t hesitate to ask!
It was great to put not only a face but also a personality to names I’ve had so much contact with over the last 18 months. It was a pleasure to meet you all! Hopefully the official write-up will contain a full roll-call as well as a few pictures!
This was not the start of a process, nor a report on where things stand at present. This is a fluid system and I fully expect to hear of and I hope be a part of more of these events in the future. We were genuinely made to feel like an important cog in the system, our thoughts were valued, some fears were allayed. Not everything is perfect, not one of the four would even pretend to think that was the case, many challenges lie ahead but one thing for sure is that if you like Waze at the moment then you’ll love where it’s going!On a final and personal note, once you see the pictures I can only apologise for the state of my facial hair, Faitaru and krankyd may choose to look that way but I am definitely doing it for charity. If I have entertained you in any way either at the meeting or whilst reading this then please feel free to donate a couple of pounds/euros/dollars to Men’s Health at http://mobro.co/dmcconachie/d