Every month, more than 130 million people rely on Waze to navigate the twists and turns of their commutes, road hazards blocking their errands, and traffic snarls slowing their weekend fun. Meanwhile, up to 30,000 of the app's most fervent fans also turn to the mapping service each day, only for something more. In alerting users to lane changes, they're finding a sense of purpose. In marking new traffic signs, they're making their communities safer. And in translating the driving directions app into local languages, they're making it more accessible.
And as dizzying as detours can make drivers—let alone cartographers—editing Waze maps can be like having a second full-time job. But there's one big catch. “We don’t get a pay check from Waze," Richey says. "But there are some great perks.”
The lay of the map editing land
Waze's volunteer map editor community is largely self-organized. Anyone can edit a map, but the most diehard editors are so protective of them that they've created an organizational chart, usually starting new volunteers out at level one until they can be trusted to not vandalize the map. (It happens. In 2017, someone drew a crude image on a map of Antarctica and added a few locations, including "Trump Hotel is Nasty and Awful." In Las Vegas, the roads were once changed to Star Wars characters.)
As map editors build trust and contribute to the community, the volunteer leaders decide which deserve to be promoted, and thus become able to make big edits in high traffic areas. Area and country managers sit at the middle of Waze's volunteer corp, for instance. And the highest rank, level six, is assigned to people called "global champs," many of whom treat their map editing duties like a full-time job.
Richey is one of Waze's global champs. In September, he was invited to a biannual global meet-up at the Waze office in Tel Aviv, along with 70 of his peers from around the world to discuss what’s working and what isn’t. He says the all-expenses paid trip is one perk of his volunteer work.
Abigail Saunders, a regional coordinator for the southeastern U.S., who has been volunteering as a Waze map editor since January 2013, also visited with her colleagues on the Tel Aviv trip. It wasn't just an opportunity to geek out on maps, she said. It was a chance to finally meet many of their colleagues— who go by usernames on Waze—in person.
"I have met and made many new friends over the years," through the Waze map editing community, Saunders says.
“We come together and hang out and network and develop a true friendship and not just discuss map stuff," Richey says. "We talk about family stuff.”