Uber’s Offices Raided in France & South Korea

This could’ve been avoided. But again, it illustrates that governments don’t have the proper tools to regulate apps. They don’t even know where to begin, so after sending “warnings” they use police force. Neither is effective.

Uber, for its part, is acting like a rebellious teenager. Except this rebellious teenager has more money than its parents, so it can kinda do what it wants.

So what’s the solution?

Governments need to develop the tools to work with start-ups. One place to start would be by developing partnerships, putting out RFPs, and trying to work in unison to mesh the rules and the innovations – and to change each where appropriate. In other words, governments need to begin acting a little more like start-ups. And start-ups, for their part, could use a little growing up (well, some of them, at least). It’s time for cities, states, and countries to embrace innovation while being smart about how to handle it. That would be the biggest innovation of all.

BBC News has the story:

BBC News

Mesh Networks, Internet Resilience, & Community Connectivity

There’s a lot in that blog title but such is the reach and potential of mesh networks. These are neighborhood-level, semi-guerrilla networks of wireless routers or nodes placed in a neighborhood to connect locals to the internet for free. They’re like a collection of free wifi hotspots which are not only connected to the internet, but also to each other to create a local network. This is where the mesh’s real power lives: in its ability to connect a community to itself. When the regular internet goes down, those on a local mesh network can still connect to and communicate with one another. One can easily see how this has the potential to create a deeper sense of community not only in internet space but also in physical space.

The Red Hook mesh (in Brooklyn, NY) illustrated this perfectly after Superstorm Sandy. The regular, wired internet was unreliable and often nonexistent, but those on the mesh were still able to communicate and coordinate locally. What’s especially interesting is how the mesh cut across socioeconomic boundaries in the area, connecting people in townhouses, apartments, and public housing projects alike. Aside from providing a necessary resource in a time of emergency, the mesh, at least in this case, accomplished something many city planners hope to achieve: a greater sense of community cohesion in a diverse neighborhood. (And at a low economic cost, at that – though it will require some funding to maintain, as all good things eventually do.)

The local focus of mesh networks was summarized in a New York Times piece from August 2014:

Joshua Breitbart, a senior fellow at New America Foundation’s Open Technology Institute, which created the software that helps the Red Hook mesh operate, said digital culture was too focused on the global, as opposed to the local. “The general narrative of Silicon Valley is, build an app and change the world,” Mr. Breitbart said. “There should be room to say, ‘Build an app and change my neighborhood.’”

The Red Hood mesh is maintained by “digital stewards,” all of whom currently live in public housing projects. This is another important piece in the community puzzle, as these stewards get trained and then pass their training on to others in the community, building another network form offline while putting their online skills to work. According to Anthony Schloss, one of the creators of the Red Hook mesh:

“If this works,” he said, “you have this virtual platform, this virtual community that everyone can be interacting with, devoid of all the cultural assumptions. And if you flip it, and the people who build it and are maintaining it are young people from public housing, that totally changes the way people think about each other and what technology can be.”

Technology is a beautiful alien that landed in our neighborhoods and gave us ways to change deeply set social patterns. These are exciting times.

Learn more about mesh networks by clicking the thumbnails below (note: these articles were not written by me).

New York Times

New York Times



When “less expensive” actually means “more expensive”

Lo and behold, there’s another new app out there. This one, called OpenStreetCab, lets you compare Uber prices with yellow taxi fares in New York City. A bunch of computer scientists compared these prices from 2013 and 2014 and discovered the benefit shifts from yellow cab to Uber at around $35. That means for the majority of taxi rides, which are short and therefore less than $35, a yellow taxi is cheaper – despite Uber’s advertising to the contrary. I haven’t tested this, but the logic here sounds about right.

Uber has a higher minimum than a yellow cab, and their algorithm is mysterious. Taxi pricing, on the other hand, are comparatively straightforward. Prices are regulated by the TLC and measured by the meter. Sure, there are ways to influence the meter (taking some air out of tires to increase wheel revolutions is one example), but these are severely punished, and it’s not worth it for many cab drivers to even try. Uber’s fares, famously, have no limit, and are measured by time and distance using an algorithm that a regular passenger has no access to. You find out how much your ride costs after you’ve left the car. Their model, however, is elegant and slick. The convenience of using the app still makes it an attractive option despite the lack of fare transparency.

It’s good to have choice. It’s even better to know the options you’re choosing between.

Click the thumbnails to read more:

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You can check out OpenStreetCab here:

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Lyft + the White House

Now maybe the picture gets clearer as to why Uber is suddenly so interested in women. While I’m not crazy about the idea of the White House promoting one private business over another, it’s great to see the Federal Government embracing the idea that new technologies like Lyft and Uber can provide a valuable, dare I say “innovative,” solution to some of our problems — in this case, sexual harassment.

Obviously the White House can’t partner with the bad boys, especially not on this particular initiative. But the recognition is there: the on-demand economy, for all its unknowns and perceived dangers, can be valuable, not only as an economy shifter but as a tool of social change.

Click the thumbnail below to read Taylor Soper’s full story on GeekWire.

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Uber Women

Uber’s recent play to attract more female drivers overlooks one thing: these jobs have no security. Not in the traditional sense, at least. While the idea of flexible employment is indeed attractive, job security can’t be underestimated. Driving a cab puts your income at the mercy of traffic, passenger moods, and local economic fluctuations. Uber’s move feels more like a PR stunt than a genuine attempt to get women working. Let’s see how this one plays out.