Archive for May 9th, 2014|Daily archive page

Uber Learned the Hard Way: Transparency Rules the Sharing Economy | Design | WIRED

Instructive: On the role of transparency (and also accountability) are so vital to community, where “community” can be both a productive network or consumer association.

This is why established peer-to-peer marketplaces like Etsy and Airbnb make a point of using their design chops to celebrate information that others sweep under the rug. Go to their websites and you’ll encounter pages outlining terms of service, cancellation policies, dispute resolutions and other boring details, treated with the same elegant design and clever copywriting as taglines and banner ads. Features like searchable photos, well-written descriptions and sensible interaction flows are everywhere, not because they’re nice to have, but because they’re the foundation that allows this trust-based model work. These are what make browsing for vintage furniture more comfortable on Etsy than on eBay, and meeting people on less creepy than on Craigslist.

via Uber Learned the Hard Way: Transparency Rules the Sharing Economy | Design | WIRED.

The Worst of All Possible Universes and the Best of All Possible Earths: Three Body and Chinese Science Fiction

The Worst of All Possible Universes and the Best of All Possible Earths: Three Body and Chinese Science Fiction |


Thanks to David Brin for pointing me and others to this rather interesting essay on science fiction in China and this remarkable set of texts. (One reason I like and have always liked science fiction is because, on that rare occasion, it is both uncanny and occult, defamiliarizing and also somehow speaking to a truth of the present unto the future; a discovered text that spells the actuality which, with any luck, you might be able to inhabit. But usually, this is what happens: you don’t.)

On Uber in London

London cabbies to offer EVEN WORSE service in protest against Uber • The Register.

The protests in London and elsewhere, along with the legal posturing and actions, raise the question: what does a union do? From the union of taxicab drivers, Uber’s squad (who are not, I think, unionized?) represent scabs, opportunistic interlopers who destroy the unity of labour’s front by satisfying demand. Scabs are bad for all workers because workers only have power when en masse; singly, they are, if not victims, very close to it. But in a union, the worker can assert a degree of power that will give him and her a measure of the profit derived from his or her labour.

Or so in theory and often enough, in practice. But taxicab unions are strange; as I understand it, they seem to resemble more closely regulated guilds. That doesn’t mean that one cannot have (or that there are not) legitimate taxicab unions of drivers. Nor would Uber’s (or Lyft’s) business model be opposed to that. But a protected guild exists largely to suppress competition in a way that unions do not (unions don’t really care, I’d guess, about competition, though longstanding and tightly-coupled unions, as perhaps can be seen with auto unions, probably stretch that guess).

What it comes down to then, as I see it, is more a contestation about the nature of the personal transport market. Is it to be open to all? What guarantees of safety, insurance, liability must be met? And where does the role of innovation sit?

In the established taxicab markets, there seems to be virtually no innovation. Sure, there have been enhancements in payment systems, as we see in New York City. And, yes, in the more conscious cities there are more “green” cars, like hybrids.

But that’s it? What about shared commuter vehicles? About family or grocery rentals? Or electric vehicles? Or, even more grandly, the development of an infrastructure that would even provide for and encourage fleets of rented electric vehicles? I suppose one could answer that this is not within the remit of a taxicab, which is usually seen as the resort of the drunk or hurried or desperate. But isn’t that rather a failure of conceiving what urban transportation is? Mass transit is one aspect of it; there are others, too. And if we are in fact to be serious about managing global warming, I should think we have to consider the place of personal vehicle, rented or not.

Open source requires cultural shift of UK councils

Think tank: Open source requires cultural shift of UK councils | Joinup.

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