WWVB : What Would Vannevar Blog?
February 27, 2014
February 23, 2014
February 19, 2014
That sentence has so many phrases that warrant parsing. Why Swissvale and Edgewood? (hint: small towns, small politics, unlikely to object) Port Security in landlocked communities? Don't obsess about details. How long is the data stored? What is it used for? If you have nothing to hide, you have nothing to fear.
If you think the PanOpticon reference is a stretch too far, note how the very public police effort to investigate the double-murder in East Liberty has focused on video surveillance from a PAT bus and from a Sunoco station.
Via EB Misfit.
February 15, 2014
The Old School was pretty clear: business was business, and personal was personal. An interesting sociopolitical question was raised by this week's focus on Lyft-Uber and The Sharing Economy. Used to be (U2B) you were a Consumer or a Producer; now you're a Consumer and a Producer. Sometimes, mixing previously unmixable categories is too hard to think about, it's disturbing and even revolting. Maybe we're prosumers (thanks to C.Briem !)
The lines between business and personal seem to be collapsing, and with any change there's winners, losers, angst and noise.
Your car, which used to be a private vehicle, is now sometimes also a kinda-taxi (except it's not, wink-wink) but you do carry passengers for hire. A few quibbling points:
- Some people have CDLs (commercial drivers licenses), some don't
- there are difference insurance and inspection requirements for commercial vehicles
- there are different parking and zoning implications for personal vehicles
- in some cities, commercial vehicles can only use certain roadways
- commercial drivers face drug testing
You build a wonderful home theater in your basement. Big, big screen. Stadium seats for fifteen, tremendous sound system, serving table for food. You've had friends over for ballgames and movies for years. Now, you're having paying guests over for Netflix and Steelers games. You're doing the same thing as you used to do, but you're charging for it. Funny thing is, all the licenses for your content are strictly for not-for-revenue personal, non-commercial use. Fughedaboutit.
Zoning. In an attempt to structure our cities and counties in accordance with the public desire, we enact zoning laws that designate what kinds of development are permitted. Some places are zoned for personal residences, some places are zoned for business, some places are zoned joint use.
Hotels. I love hotels, I get the NYTimes and they've got a pool. But now there's AirBnB and my neighbor has transients traipsing in and out because he's sharing his guest bedroom. We're zoned for residential, but wow: brave new world.
Drones. You can go out and buy some really cool drones and quadricopters, and you can outfit them with some really cool cameras. You can fly them in a lot of places (but not around DC). The rules say you can only do this as a personal activity, you cannot do it for commercial use; you can't do it for compensation. Wink, wink, nudge, nudge.
Taxes: Personal purchases pays sales tax; commercial use doesn't. That's not trivial; start messing with personal and commercial and the entire tax structure is in play. (Ask Al Capone about taxes) Note how states are now collecting Amazon taxes and cities are focusing on AirBnB scofflaws.
Finance: Personal banking, Business banking: very different things.
How did we come to have such clear schisms between personal use and business use? What are the truly essential safeguards that we need to convey into the future, to ensure public safety from malefactors? How much of the commercial legislation is defending incumbents and restricting competition and innovation, and how much is protecting the public from blackguards and the extremes of capitalism?
What are the implications of tearing down those (anachronistic) distinctions? Because the Mesh isn't going to wait for the old rules to change, it's going to unleash creative destruction and swamp the unprepared.
Locally, it seems like Pittsburgh is going to be a Mesh City, which could be #FunToWatch, what with winners and losers n'at.
One could assert that Pittsburgh is uniquely positioned for the business-personal amiguity, blessed with the mullet: business in the front, party in the back. In the end, everything comes full circle to Yinzers.
February 13, 2014
So on one level, it's about a new entrant into a stagnant monopolized abused market. It's People's Express moving into the USAir fortress hub. It's the people, shaking off the chains of outdated corrupt malignant systems and making things happen. It's venture capitalists with their own purposes, wrapped in hipster people-power. It's a lot of shiny new objects.
On another level, it's also a new entrant into an existing field of legacy, minority-operated jitneys that have served minority communities for decades, which have been the focus of period tickets and police sweeps but have also had a certain low-level tolerance because authorities recognize their utility. So any benefits to the new entrants need to be balanced with treatment of the legacy players.
Economically and socially, wake up people it's the Ubiquitious Internet and it's changing things -- distributed systems and peer rankings and the sharing economy. So we're no longer in the Second Wave with economic concentrations in factories and Big Companies. Everybody can be a driver. Everybody is a publisher. Everybody can raise chickens n'at in the backyard and sell artisanal produce to their neighbors (very big in Brooklyn right now).
The old power schisms about individuals and businesses are archaic and crumbling because we're all economic players, we're consumers and producers. The sharing economy is here and now, and it's very hard to analyze because it's so multivariable and dynamic, there's no A-B testing, but it's not going to wait for anybody to develop good metrics.
Before we get into the Third Wave, let's look at where we were before we moved to factories and concentrated production. The first wave was Farms, second wave was Factories, third wave is Floppies. In the First Wave, everybody was a producer and a consumer, and it happened around the farm and the family unit. You made your own cheese, maybe your own clothes, and bartered in the community.
In the sharing economy we're going back to a lot of that, but now it's happening in cities. Cities provide the vertical development (take that, Richard Florida) and the density that make all these connections and networks possible; it doesn't happen in the exurbs. All this cool stuff needs a city to work. Lyft doesn't play in Beaver County.
To quote another of my heroes, Lyft didn't build the city, they're just profiting from it, which is to say - they're taking money out of it, out of us. If we are rational, we will happily allow them to take money out of us if (1) there is a justified exchange of value and (2) if they conduct their business in a way that is conducive to the city we want to be, within the laws of the nation.
And so we come to government, which - by the way - created a framework which allowed the city to grow and prosper. Without the government there would not be a city. So what is the role of government? That's a topic much discussed these days - or at least, much shouted about.
I think, and it's just my opinion, that the role of government is to
- guarantee the rights and liberty of all
- protect the voice of the minority from the tyranny of the majority
- ensure the weak, sick, poor are provided for
- ensure the health of citizens and environment
- temper the excesses of capitalism for the benefit of the common good
- ensure legal structures that provide for business and industry
- take on a monopoly on violence in support of good laws
And so for me, a big part of government is taking care of the weak, the sick, the poor, and the elderly. And let me say this to my Fox-friends: please bring me a professed Christian who wants to argue the point.
So now we come to the discussion at hand, the symptom is Lyft and Uber, and how do we frame the topic. I think the topic is, getting around in Pittsburgh is too difficult and frustrating!
Getting Around In Pittsburgh is Too Difficult and FrustratingSo that's the framework I want to discuss. I think that in 2014-15, three big honking things are going to happen. We're going to see Pgh BikeShare rollout, with 50 stations instead of the desired 100; we're going to see BRT between Downtown and Oakland, which is more about real estate development than transit; and we're going to see Lyft established after a legal wrangle. These two maps identify the BikeShare and Lyft key service areas:
|(click to embiggen in new window)|
What does it look like when you overlay BRT, Bikeshare, and Lyft? One interesting thing is that BRT is like a bridge or a wormhole, it doesn't stop anywhere in the middle - doesn't stop in Uptown or on the Hill, for instance. It just hyperjumps from Downtown to Oakland. But here's what the Three Great Innovations will look like:
Not surprisingly, the Three Great Innovations are going where the Young White Money is. But here's a problem: Bike Share, Lyft, and BRT don't help the sick, poor, and elderly. Think about it:
- A person in a wheelchair can't use Lyft. They could use transit.
- A poor person isn't using Lyft. Might not have a smartphone. If they don't tip well, they get a bad Driver Rating. Two bad driver ratings, nobody is going to pick them up - that's the SanFran experience.
- A Mom with little kids isn't using Lyft - no child seats. Transit would be OK.
- Older folks probably aren't using Facebook to get around town.
- Wheelchair, Moms with kids, elderly - bike share isn't helping much.
- People who live outside those privileged zones aren't getting any help.
- The private companies are cherry picking revenue out of the transit system that would be subsidizing fares for the less well off.
Any change produces winners and relative losers, and there's a lot of people who don't get anything out of the Three Great Innovations that are sucking all the oxygen out of the room. When we focus on these Three, we're ignoring a lot of people's needs.
Sorry, we didn't go Meta Enough
But wait - actually, the city is doing things within the City's span of control. The Mayor doesn't control the bus system or the T system. The County does that. So the problem is: Regionalism. Things like equity in transit, the Mayor can't deliver. He's influencing what he can, within his scope.
What are we doing? Look at our choices.
February 11, 2014
When Lyft says that they are not a taxi company, and that they are not a transport company, I believe them. Let me tell you why.
It's puzzling to me that such high-power venture capitalists would invest in shuttle services. Sure, they can break the monopoly of Yellow Cab or medallion cabs, but VC's are sharks going after max rates of return - why are they pursuing this activity? It doesn't make sense.
A web-bud kept asking, How is Lyft different from a Jitney? He's a smart guy so I pondered it. My first pass was: Jitneys are black-operated in black neighborhoods. My second pass was: although jitney drivers know their customers, it's a cash operation; no receipts, no records, no footprint. Lyft is all digital; there's records everywhere. Don't want to use Lyft to get to your assignation or dealer (although inevitably people will).
So I thought about the loss of privacy with Lyft. Even Yellow Cabs are anonymous if you hail a cab in the street. Sure, there's video cameras but that requires extraction and that's exceptional; the norm is anonymity.
When you see smart people (VC's) doing something that doesn't make sense, either they're foolish or (more likely) you don't hear the music they're dancing to. Then I realized; the loss of privacy with Lyft isn't a bug, it's a feature. It fact, information gathering is Lyft's core profitability.
- In a digital transaction, the information gleaned can be more valuable than the goods and currency exchanged, particularly when leveraged over the lifetime value of the customer.
- You've probably heard this before: Google isn't a search-engine company; Google is an advertising company that happens to have a search engine, among other things.
- Lyft isn't a taxi company. Lyft is a marketing company using drivers and their cars. (This is my speculation)
Let me explain myself. Facebook has billions of users, and Facebook is an advertising company. The better they can understand and quantify who their users are, the better they can sell their advertising. So Facebook knows that SteelerBoi1992 has certain demographics, likes certain bands, has certain friends, goes to certain other websites - they've got a pretty good portfolio on SteelerBoi1992. They watch him move around on his mobile phone, that helps a lot. Facebook has a pretty good handle on the Zip code where he sleeps, and where he spends his time during daylight hours on weekdays.
So Facebook can sell SteelerBoi1992's profile for a lot of money, and they can sell ads to SteelerBoi1992 at a higher rate because they can target him very specifically. Some people don't use Facebook on their smartphones, can you believe it? Facebook doesn't make as much money off their profiles.
The point is, the more enriched the Facebook profile, the more valuable the individual profile and the more valuable the overall portfolio is.
The Holy Grail is to break through the avatars and UserNames and get past the charade of SteelerBoi1992 and find out that this individual is really Walter Johnson, 22 years old, of 1313 Elmhurst Street, and what his credit card number is. Boy, when you can attach the online profile to the IRL (in real life) profile you've just multiplied the value of this file in a big way. That's a play that's worth the VC's time and money.
That's what Lyft does. Lyft connects online identities with real-life identities and then enriches the profile with location and demographic data from the driver. That's what's brilliant about Lyft targeting young, moneyed Millenials.
When the Customer wants a Lyft, they sign in through Facebook as SteelerBoi1992 to get a car. The App knows that they're also Walter Johnson. Walter identifies where he is and where he's going. Those are all datapoints that are stored. Lyft gets the Facebook username, the photo, and the real name. After the ride, the driver enters a few items into the Customer Profile. I'm going to be very disappointed if there aren't some demographics and econometrics in there. Then the Customer pays through the App with their Credit Card, which gives Lyft entree into Walter's financial data. This is a marketing wet dream.
When Lyft goes into a City, they're using shuttle services to enrich Facebook marketing data on young professionals who can afford car services. Imagine the tremendous value for Facebook in enriching the database for a population like San Francisco. This is why they're moving into every city.
This is how Lyft is undercutting Yellow Cabs on price. They don't have to make their money on the rides. They're making it elsewhere. They can probably lose a few cents on every ride and still be quite profitable.
In the old days, when they said "it's not about the money", it was about the money.
In the Nu 2.0, when they say "we're not a cab company", they're not. It's about the data.