Why Google Bought Waze

After lots of rumors, and a weekend article from the Israeli based Globes.co.il, Google has announced it acquired mobile navigation company Waze. This comes after a rumored Facebook acquisition (see our writeup), the drivers of which apply here in lots of ways.

Though there’s some overlap with Waze, Google picks up lots of data to bolster its market leading position in mobile mapping. This goes back to the recent WSJ conference when Waze CEO Noam Bardin said, “Maps are for mobile what search is for the web.”

The highly data-driven Waze will boost Google’s existing position in mapping with not just real time traffic information, but  social signals such as where people are going and how they’re connected.  This goes back to our reasons for why Waze made sense with Facebook.

More specifically, Waze plugs right into Facebook’s product framework because real time status is the lifeblood of the news feed. In Waze’s case it would add an additional dimension to what you’re doing or thinking by adding where you’re going. It would be like Nearby on steroids. The other reason this fits together is that Facebook is increasingly making location a key dimension of status, so that it has more content and “signals” to help you discover things. Signals can include current location, that of friends, places you’ve been, and where you might go next.

Stepping back, Google has traditionally been all about algorithmically determining relevance based on a combination of keyword and page prominence. But it’s increasingly trying to bring in social signals to surface relevant content for relevance. Where you are is an important component of status, and Waze could take that to the next level: where you’re going and where you’ve been.

That makes mobile search potentially more relevant for users and more attractive for advertisers. For the latter, picture ads served based on where someone is going or their navigation history, not just Google’s traditional paradigm of keyword query or search history.

This could also boost analytics the same ways Google Wallet is hoped to do: closing the loop on the last mile to the cash register. Rather than clicks to determine ad performance, tracking navigation to an offline store (where most transactions happen) is the holy grail.

The other speculated acquisition driver is to keep Waze out of Apple’s and Facebook’s hands. So Google has both acquired a strategic asset, and kept it away from competitors — increasingly an acquisition criteria in today’s competitive marketplace among tech giants.

The acquisition price is rumored to be in the $1.3B range but this hasn’t been confirmed. Waze currently has 50 million users, mostly in the U.S. Israel, and a few other markets. Its users are highly engaged, and Waze will likely be maintained as a standalone brand/app.

There’s a lot more to this which we’ll continue to unpack.

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