Episode Seventy Five: The Sustainable Web; TaskRabbit; Airbnb; Cities

by danhon

0.0 Station Ident

I’m back in Portland, but I don’t know how long for. But it’s 70 and sunny (yes, I’ve gone native in fahrenheit, but I maintain: fahrenheit for hotness, celsius for coldness).

1.0 The Sustainable Web

So Andy Baio had a nice surprise for us all today when he announced the return of event discovery service/website upcoming.org[1] with corresponding Kickstarter (which Kickstarter is, of course, already doing very well but could always do with your backing[2]. If sir may make a recommendation, sir would suggest the $75 or higher reward level, if only because sir thinks the t-shirt would look mighty fine on you).

There’s a number of things to unpack here. First is Andy taking back this shitty corporatese of “sunsetting” things, and fuck-yes-sunrise.

But the other starts with an admission that I hadn’t been paying that much attention to the indie web[3] movement. Not because it’s not important – it is – but because until recently there’s been something about it that has been hard for me to get behind, and I can legitimately say that “some of my best friends are part of the indie web movement”. I get bringing control of user data back to the user. In fact, just typing that makes me want to put on a TRON costume and shout from a rooftop: “HE FIGHTS FOR THE USER!” But I digress. I get decentralisation and what it buys us in this post-Snowden age of the accidental panopticon that we built with the the best, opposite intentions.

On top of that, you add the not-closure-but-probably of app.net[4] that again started with, well, not exactly the *best* of intentions, and probably misguided ones, and in the same case of Diaspora[5], a kind of misunderstanding of what you need if you’re building a social network versus a social platform and what the former requires to be viable in the face of competition (lots of people) versus what the latter provides (a place).

So my thing is this: not an indie web, but a sustainable one. One that is kind of adjacent to the indie web, but that builds long-lasting, reliable services, not ones that disappear. This adjacency comes from the answers to the question of: what kind of attributes are required for a sustainable web? Do you need easily exportable data? Sure. Do you need some element of user control? Sure. Are those the *defining* characteristics? Not really. But I think we might be verging on a sort of turning point where applications and services can, at the outset, say: “you know what, here’s our plan for being around for a while so you can *trust* us and invest time in us”.

That sustainability may prevent the sort of occurrence where you have Moves being acquired by Facebook[6] and their subsequent perceived about-turn in terms of “comingling” of data with their new parent company.

But anyway. A thought. The sustainable web. What would that look like? A middle web – not the grow fast and explode model of VC, and not necessarily the super-slow model of revenue funded. Or, actually, the super-slow model of revenue funded. But a web where we build for the long-term, and perhaps pulling back from explosive, burn bright and short products and services.

[1] http://upcoming.org
[2] https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/waxpancake/the-return-of-upcomingorg
[3] http://indiewebcamp.com
[4] http://blog.app.net/2014/05/06/app-net-state-of-the-union/
[5] https://joindiaspora.com
[6] http://www.moves-app.com/press

2.0 TaskRabbit

Okay, at this point I’m not entirely sure if TaskRabbit know what they’re doing, or if they do know what they’re doing, it’s just because, as someone pointed out on Twitter, I’m British and naturally sensitive to such things. But I got a marketing email from TaskRabbit this morning[1] that read:

“What do working moms want for Mother’s Day? Not chocolate or flowers, but more time in the day. TaskRabbit can help with the tasks that pile up, tackling your mounting pile of laundry or dishes, cleaning up, running errands. Moms recently told the Today show: “The constant juggle to get everything done each day can be overwhelming, leaving me feeling like there just isn’t enough time in the day to enjoy being a mom.” This Mother’s Day, give a mom more time to enjoy being a mom.”

For which my instant reaction is:

a) you’ve got to be kidding me;
b) seriously, I should be the one doing those things on Mother’s Day, not a Task Rabbit – if I can;
c) this is just funny now

Of course, there’s a bit a little further down in the marketing email where they highlight some of their favourite tasks of the week, of which one is “Write a poem for my mother”[2], of which, has anyone seen Her, lately?

The back-and-forth amongst Twitter was of a Euro/NorthAm divide where (and you can guess where I lie) the atomisation of humans into units of work and money that are exchangeable feels a little bit, well, dehumanising and insensitive. Hands up who reckons Piketty is a TaskRabbit supporter?

Counter-example, though: someone on Twitter mentioned that they’d used Fiverr to get someone to sing Happy Birthday in his underpants, in Welsh, to their mom, and that was the best $5 they’d ever spent. So you can obviously use this sort of stuff in a, well, more humane way.

As an aside, it’d totally be possible to do a sort of TaskRabbit Emancipation Day where we all pay TaskRabbits to take the day off. Or a Love Your TaskRabbit Day, if you want to be more branded. But down that road lies the thought that someone might think that TaskRabbit, with its tasks and resource/work-allocation bidding system, might turn out to be a more “efficient” way for government to allocate welfare.

[1] https://www.flickr.com/photos/danhon/14131798235/
[2] https://www.taskrabbit.com/san-francisco-ca/t/write-a-poem-for-my-mother

3.0 Airbnb

And again, seeing people talk about Airbnb frustrations in terms of last-minute cancellations by hosts, it still strikes me that on the few occasions that I *have* used Airbnb, it still feels like a service that is in favour of hosts making money as opposed to good experiences for guests. When it comes down to it, it feels like the value proposition for an Airbnb customer (ie not a host) is cheap housing. But the tradeoff for that is time – and we can always externalise certain costs onto a consumer. So instead of booking directly with a hotel and knowing instantly whether I can get a room or not, I have to invest time in applying to multiple hosts, waiting for feedback, and then – hopefully – getting somewhere to stay. At some point along that continuum of time investment, a switch is flipped and it makes more sense to just book a hotel. Especially when hotels are designed are uniformity of experience and, hopefully, predictability.

Airbnb is interesting because it’s definitely a get-rich, entrepreneurial service on the host side – otherwise I wouldn’t be seeing “hack your way to retirement with Airbnb” style articles on HackerNews about how to find the cheapest properties to buy in the US that provide the best Airbnb return, or that I consistently hear stories from guests like being told “if anyone asks, just say you’re a relative” or “please avoid the concierge for the building”. Sure, that points to friction in the regulatory environment and Airbnb’s taking advantage of that. But, hey, there’ll be a reckoning. As it were.

4.0 Cities

My oh my I received so many notes about my posts about Cities. They’re percolating. In a good way. Hopefully more on cities tomorrow.

That’s Wednesday!

Send notes! I love the whooshing noise they make as they land in my inbox and glare at me balefully.

Best,

Dan