If Google isn’t trying to snatch Waze away from Facebook, it really should be

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The plot has thickened around the potential acquisition of Waze, the Israel-based social-mapping service, with news from Bloomberg late Thursday night that Google is considering a bid for the company, which is already reportedly evaluating a $1-billion-plus offer from Facebook. While other sources have poured cold water on the Google news — and some speculate that it is just a gambit designed to draw a higher price from Facebook — there are some pretty compelling reasons for Google to acquire the company.

News of the Facebook bid emerged earlier this month via reports in the Israeli media, which said that the social network had offered up to $1 billion to acquire Waze, which adds a real-time social element to traffic maps and claims to have close to 50 million active users. More recently, however, the Facebook talks have apparently bogged down over issues involving whether Waze will have transfer most of its staff from Israel to Facebook’s home base in California.

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As with many such reports, the Bloomberg news is couched in all sorts of qualified terms, quoting anonymous sources “familiar with the matter” who say the company “may be considering” an offer, and it’s not uncommon for companies to float such rumors when they are looking for more money — or when they want to convince their acquirer to drop certain conditions, such as the requirement that Waze move its operations to San Francisco.

Some Israeli news outlets have also reported that Facebook has locked down its offer with a clause that prevents Waze from negotiating with other companies. And Google may have decided that making a bid for Waze simply isn’t worth the hassle that it might generate from antitrust authorities, who are already said to be looking at the company on other matters.

Google needs Waze more than Facebook does

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All that said, however, there are some compelling reasons for Google to make a bid for Waze, as I tried to outline in a recent post. While it would make sense for Facebook to acquire the company — if only because it would help cement the social network’s move into mobile, and broaden the range of behavior and location data it could use to target users — it makes far more sense for Google.

Google Maps is one of the core offerings the company has when it comes to mobile, arguably almost as important as search and email. And it’s clear that Google cares about evolving the service, since it continues to pour resources into redesigns and added features like the ones that Om wrote about recently. There’s also no question that the social data provided by users is a crucial element of maps — and that is what Waze specializes in, and has managed to build right under Google’s nose.

I would argue that Google can’t afford to let Facebook (or Apple, although it reportedly isn’t part of the current negotiations) get its hands on Waze — in much the same way that Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg came to the swift conclusion that he couldn’t afford to let Twitter acquire Instagram, and made a surprise $1-billion offer without even consulting his board of directors. If Google hasn’t already made a bid for Waze, I think it needs to get busy working on one.

Post and thumbnail photos courtesy of Flickr user Dunechaser and Eva Blue

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