Saturday, September 18, 2021

Meet the team helping you escape traffic jams and potholes

In Malaysia, Waze is maintained by a group of volunteers who update the map each month.

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You probably know Waze as the navigation app with fun, community-centred features that make your daily drive easier.

Waze is powered by its community – and a big part of this community are map editors like Yusmizan Ag Kirah and Lee Zhong Zhen.

Who are these map editors and what do they do?

Whenever you see dead ends or one-way streets marked on the map, or if you have ever got help with editing your business location, you have the editors to thank for that.

In Malaysia, the app is maintained by this passionate team of volunteers who make up just 1% of the global network of roughly 30,000 editors updating the Waze map each month.

Yusmizan Ag Kirah.

Not only that, they are also on the Waze Malaysia Facebook group sharing information and are quick to lend a helping hand when needed.

Yus is a full-time lecturer in Sabah. He joined Waze in 2013 and is now country manager, global champ, and country coordinator. He finds time before and after lecturing to balance map editing and communicating with the Waze community.

Lee is a Level 5 country manager and local champ based in the Klang Valley. Five years ago, there were no roads on the Waze map connecting to his home and anyone new to his area would get lost trying to locate him.

He became frustrated and wanted to know the right person from Waze to confront. That’s when he discovered the group of volunteers.

“Hey, anyone can become an editor and take action,” he thought, and that’s how he became an editor himself. He has since fixed the mapping issue in his area, and also continued to make more edits to his hometown in Seremban.

When the pandemic hit, and commuting took a drastic dip in the early days of movement restriction, the community was soon busy marking road-blocked areas.

Within the span of this year, Malaysians have enjoyed uninterrupted GPS navigation in the SMART Tunnel and in underground roads leading to and from the Tun Razak Exchange (TRX) – thanks to the installation of bluetooth-enabled devices called Beacons.

TRX was the first in Southeast Asia to enjoy the benefits of this technology and both Yus and Lee were part of mapping segments of this road.

Mapping these areas posed different challenges from their regular activity. In the case of the underground basement structures in the TRX, they had to be very accurate when overlaying drawings into the map editor.

What made it tricky was the fact that there was not a very big height difference between the road above the ground and the part which starts to lead underground.

Doing it wrong could lead to people being routed to the wrong place. To map 300m of area took them roughly three days and 15 hours to complete.

While neither was involved with assessing the situation on the ground in the SMART Tunnel, another one of the local country coordinators, Ahmad Kamal Effendy, was.

Now the community continues to do their good work with keeping the map updated.

Holidays are a time for being with those near and dear. The global pandemic has made it even more important to be with a community of shared interests, friendship or even someone close enough to be called “family”.

Lee Zhong Zhen.

It turns out the Waze community are not just fanatics who only discuss maps.

The volunteers come from a wide range of backgrounds and bond over shared interests and goals. For example, running virtual marathons, turning to each other for help, or even coming together for a good cause.

Recently they ran a blood donation drive, which they do at least twice a year.

So why do they spend so much time and effort on improving the Waze app when they’re not getting paid?

“I really can’t stand spending time in traffic, sometimes hours at a time, when I could be doing something useful or productive. When someone comes to me, telling me that Waze routed them away from traffic, that makes my day,” said Yus on what makes being an editor most rewarding for him.

For Lee, it was the ability to correct an error on the map. “That frustration that I had in the beginning is no longer there because now I have the power to change and fix what is not right, and I don’t get lost anymore.

“But it’s not just that, I feel that we can rely on each other for support, and it’s a great way to make friends who have become very dear to me.”

As editors, they get to be the first to try new features, being part of the beta tester group. This is especially true for localised features that do not go out to all users at once.

They see it as a nice gesture from Waze when they get special swag and merchandise every now and then – it’s all stuff that can’t be bought from a store.

When asked to share their thoughts on what qualities are needed to be an editor, Yus was only half joking when he said, “You must be a Waze app user, or else you won’t understand the issues faced. Patience and the desire to help people is also key. Knowledge of mapping is not required as there will be more experienced editors to guide you, but it can be helpful.”

Lee agrees, adding: “You need to have the passion to contribute and a certain level of selflessness. But I’m not going to say it’s all give and no take. Join in to have fun – all the better if you are a sociable person.”

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