Case Study: waze

Waze is my GPS of choice. If you were to ask me why, I’d say that it gets me to my location fastest (specifically, faster than Google Maps). But we all know that’s debatable. Quite debatable.

What’s clear is that the perception of utility, usability of the interface, and the intangible happiness one gains from the product can be observed. In other words, there is a real difference between the two- and they are SUBJECTIVE differences. Subjective experiences, as opposed to objective functionality, are real concerns, and propel the marketplace.

For me… Waze delivers the best experience. Why? A look at Yu Kai Chou’s framework has explanatory powers. In addition, working off of Yu Kai Chou’s Octalysis framework, we can see other designs Waze might be able to incorporate. To read my cover on the Octalysis Framework click here.

Note: Many of these ideas, and concepts belong to Yu Kai Chou.

Another words for customization is what Yu Kai Chou calls the Alfred Effect, and is apart of the pillar Ownership and Possession.

Basically, users feel engaged when they feel the app belongs to them; Waze is their baby. Waze executes this feeling in the user by remembering users favorite spots, and including that in the search function. In addition, Waze will remember where a
“player” will go at a certain time. For example, if somebody usually goes home at 6pm, Waze will ask if they are heading home when they turn on the app at 6pm.

In the beginning days of Waze, Waze had a very game-y narrative. When the app opened, it would show a monster snake, representing traffic, and knights, the users, trying to beat the snake monster. This narrative provided a more engaging experience because users felt like they were achieving a higher goal than getting to home on time- they were killing a monster.

The act of getting home is a challenge. Therefore, there was an advantage for Waze to gamify the feat of getting home. Waze does this by tracking completed distance, showing how users are beating traffic, and leveling up.

It is important that users feel curious about the app. Curiosity and unexpectedness are much more engaging than steady rewards (think about the Skinner test).

The most powerful curiosity effect in Waze is what Yu Kai Chou calls the Oracle Effect. The Oral Effect is a prediction about the future, and the corollary is that the player is anticipation of this prediction. This is engineered by the communications of events in the crowdsourcing. For example, a user will report a car accident and then someone along the same journey will see that there is an accident and be wondering if the accident is actually there.

Furthermore, there are cute little graphics that represent level-states of the players. This renders the question, “What do these symbols mean?” Thereby, the cute graphics cause more curiosity.

Social Influence
People enjoy sociability. Life revolves around connection. In addition, Waze’s strongest asset is its social design. Therefore, Waze’s social aspect causes appreciable engagement. Here is a list of the social engagement methods:

  1. Friend Invites
  2. Share ETA
  3. Say and Receive “Thank-You’s” for Contributions
  4. The ability to see the status/levels of other users
  5. Shows how many Wazers are nearby
  6. Able to see icons of other drivers, and their locations

Ways for Waze to Gamify More
I love Waze, but I think Waze can take their game a bit furthermore. Here is a brainstorm of how Waze can improve.

  1.  Give points for being a local, and beating Waze’s time estimation by making better turns
  2.  Show how much time the player saved by using Waze compared to the normal driver
  3. Give a notice and “congratulations!” when passing through the tough parts of the drive. For example, say, “You finally passed traffic! The wait is over!”
  4. Allow someone to share how long the traffic was on social media. For example, “I sat through 45 minutes of traffic, when it usally is 10 minutes!”
  5.  Emphasize the previous narrative more
    Give a bigger victory notice when arriving at the destination


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