Wednesday, July 31, 2013

An Admirable Effort to Filter the Kool-Aid out of Social Business

When I first read Dion Hinchcliffe's promotional (I should probably say "self-promotional") article about "social business" on ZDNet, I was really worried that the Kool-Aid had finally made it into the general water supply. I was reminded of Enrico Fermi's put-down of a talk that had purported to be a presentation of research results in physics:
It isn't even wrong!
The source of the Kool-Aid can apparently be traced back to Jeremiah Owyang, who has become the (possibly self-appointed) chief evangelist for "Collaborative Economy." Here is how Hinchcliffe explains the concept:
The basic idea of the Collaborative Economy, like so many major shifts, is actually pretty simple: The world has started moving beyond the simple mass sharing of ideas and media over the Internet. Instead, we have now begun sharing products and services directly with each other en masse using the same social media principles. Owyang believes, and early evidence is starting to support, that this will be much more disruptive than the first wave of social media was.
As might be guessed, one of Owyang's chief acolytes is Thomas Friedman, who may be living proof that you can fool some of the people all of the time.  More to the point, this may be an even more devastating consequence of what Andrew Keen dubbed "the cult of the amateur" than the con job of "Innovative Journalism" peddled in April of 2013 at a conference at Stanford University.

Every con needs to start with a success story. In this case the stories have formed around person-to-person sharing applied to both accommodations (Airbnb) and transportation (Uber). In the latter case there has been some pretty serious push-back, coming primarily from professional taxi and limousine services. Here in California that push-back worked its way to argue its case before the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC), the case being that there are any number of factors of professionalism (such as dealing with liabilities concerning both customers and service providers) that risk being casually overlooked under the spell of the imbibed Kool-Aid.

CPUC recognized the merits of this case. Yesterday, they issued the following statement:
The Commission is aware that TNCs [Transportation Network Company] are a nascent industry," the proposal reads. "Innovation does not, however, alter the Commission's obligation to protect public safety, especially where, as here, the core service being provided -- passenger transportation on public roadways -- has potential safety impacts for third parties and property.
That statement was then reinforced with a ruling, summarized by Dara Kerr in an article for CNET News as follows:
The California Public Utilities Commission published a proposal on Tuesday that said it would allow companies like Uber, Sidecar, and Lyft to operate in the state if they adhered to certain guidelines. These guidelines require drivers to be licensed by the CPUC, go through criminal background checks, attend driver-training programs, carry $1 million per-incident insurance coverage, and have a zero-tolerance policy on drugs and alcohol.
The good news is that the TNCs here in San Francisco seem to support this proposal, supposedly meaning that they will be willing to follow those guidelines. Whether or not other businesses based on that Collaborative Economy will embrace such reality checks as willingly is anyone's guess.

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