I am not a user of Uber. I think it fair to state this up front.
My reason for not using Uber has nothing to do with my feelings about the company or the service. I think it is perfectly fine as a service. I have read some controversial things about hiring practices (if you can call it hiring – according to the company, drivers are independent contractors). Honestly, I can understand both sides of the story, though I swing further to the left on most employment issues. I believe that companies have a social obligation to more than just shareholders. All that aside, I don’t use it simply because I live in Chiba, Japan, where the service is not available. It is available in Tokyo, but taxis are so prevalent that even when I am in Tokyo, I don’t see the need.
Still, a good price at the right time is good. Similarly, if I’m in a hurry, and I’m willing to pay the premium, I like a mostly guaranteed ride.
This brings me to my original question, “Where is the Open Source Uber?” More importantly, what is an open source Uber?
One of my favorite science fiction short stories of the 90s was called Maneki Neko by Bruce Sterling. In it, a video format upgrade engineer, named Tsuyoshi, has a pokkecon (basically a smartphone with an app) that ties him to his social network, connected by the app, that agrees to do for others what they need, for free. It is a great story, very worth your time to read. While some of the technology in the story (as imagined in 1998) is only half fleshed-out, the story is still both prescient and fantastical. It describes a gift economy, albeit one in which our hero is a bit too unthinkingly loyal to his social network. If you haven’t heard of a gift economy then just check out this link on Wikipedia.
We have open source encyclopedias. We have open source operating systems. Why not an open source gift economy?
I don’t have the answer to my own question. This post is more lament than a call to action. It neither details what I long for nor does it illustrate the steps to reach it. I just wonder.
I wonder what we need, what people need, to genuinely create an app like Tsuyoshi’s pokkecon. If we can create a Linux and a Wikipedia, then why not an app that gives you the opportunity to help others in your network for free?