DIGITAL AMERICA

Author Archives: Celia

The Modern Manhunt: Boston

// Posted by Celia on 04/21/2013 (11:44 PM)

One week ago, the United States was rocked by a tragedy that Obama stated was the worst act of terrorism since 9/11. The Boston Marathon Bombings occurred in the afternoon at an event with thousands of people congregated for celebrations… Read more

One week ago, the United States was rocked by a tragedy that Obama stated was the worst act of terrorism since 9/11. The Boston Marathon Bombings occurred in the afternoon at an event with thousands of people congregated for celebrations and accomplishments. Nobody anticipated such a horrible act on such a cheerful occasion. Once the explosions occurred, the witnesses were instantly floored to find answers. Who did it? Why? How did they get away with it? Spencer Ackerman, of Wired, said in the aftermath of the bombings the law enforcement agents were left with “a huge problem and nearly no leads.”

The law enforcement agents used the only information available to them: The Crowd. The explosions took place near the finish line in Copley Square, one of the busiest and most congested areas of the day. Aside from the implications of the space for injuries, the space also provided an arena under  surveillance by bystanders’ smartphones and retailers’ camera. There was an abundance of photos and videos ready to be explored. Despite some reluctance in using these digital media tools, the police went ahead with pursuing leads provided by the public. Because the police and FBI allowed civilians to help formulate a case, within days they had their suspects. Thousands of videos and photos of the area were submitted and agents had to dig through for patterns of suspicious behavior.

What happened in Boston was truly horrible, but the events that followed were just as inspiring. The city of Boston unified as a collective unit to solve a time-sensitive and dangerous situation. Google launched Person Finder to assist in finding missing persons or submitting information about someone. The Boston Globe created a GoogleDoc to provide housing to those in need after the tragedy. In a city with millions of people, one tragedy instantly transformed strangers into coworkers as the hive mind worked to solve the crime and apprehend the suspect.

I think the events in Boston show the future of security in a positive light. At some points throughout the class I have felt like we are moving into an age of “organized anarchy,” where the Internet is so vast that security could not possibly cover all realms. The Boston Marathon Bombings were an encouraging symbol of the American spirit and the potential benefits of collective intelligence. The large-scale problem solving through such a large crowd was only made possible by the help of police, FBI, and the public. Looking forward, how can the public and collective problem-solving concepts help avoid these situations? Multiple cameras caught the bombers on camera, but it wasn’t until after the event that the activity was noticed as suspicious. We must work to develop a means of preventing these acts of terrorism through collective intelligence in order to prevent deaths and tragedies.


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Digital Education

// Posted by Celia on 04/01/2013 (12:47 AM)

The digital world as a third space exists globally as an alternative universe for many users. The network is global, made up of infinite localities. Local problems now have the opportunity to receive attention in a global forum and attract… Read more

The digital world as a third space exists globally as an alternative universe for many users. The network is global, made up of infinite localities. Local problems now have the opportunity to receive attention in a global forum and attract attention through that outlet. Digital culture pervades much of our daily lives at University of Richmond and I believe the same is becoming increasingly true across the nation and across the world. Every day people are finding new ways to use this digital space to improve or change their situation in their current physical space. Right now, look at education in the US. It’s no secret that college in the US is expensive. Many students will graduate in debt from student loans and countless others will not be able to afford college in the first place. But what if all it took to get an education was a laptop?

Salman Khan, a former analyst at a hedgefund, founded Khan Academy, a not-for-profit organization that seeks to provide “a free world-class education to anyone anywhere.” The Khan Academy was voted one of the 50 best websites of 2011 by TIME Magazine. There are over 2000 videos in 27 languages that cover a range of subjects and topics. Khan came up with the idea for his organization while tutoring his cousins remotely via YouTube videos. Now, because of Khan’s organization, millions of people worldwide have access to this digital classroom. What also makes this classroom unique is the structure; the student learns at his or her own pace, meaning that no student is left behind.

In this TEDTalk from Khan, he discusses his inspiration and vision for the Academy and the ways it can influence what is happening in the physical space for education.

What are the implications of a shift to digital education? Will college attendance numbers decrease? Is there a reliable measure of success from digital education versus a “physical” education? For those without the time or resources to earn a full degree at a university, Khan Academy could be an opportunity for upward social mobility. An education opens the doors to a whole range of careers and access to other connected resources. Where do you think there is the most potential for this type of digital education? Could it help immigrants from Mexico and elsewhere to earn better wages and fill more specialized positions? Is digital education useful for US citizens?


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Occupy London

// Posted by Celia on 03/25/2013 (1:24 AM)

The Occupy Movement that began in 2011 as Occupy Wall Street became an international call for mobilization of “the 99%.” Hundreds of websites around the world were created to represent the total movement along with individual branches of Occupy. The… Read more

The Occupy Movement that began in 2011 as Occupy Wall Street became an international call for mobilization of “the 99%.” Hundreds of websites around the world were created to represent the total movement along with individual branches of Occupy. The feelings of social and economic inequalities were so strong that the movement continued for years, resulting in camp-outs all over the US and far beyond.

occupylondonday1

This is the video from the “About” section on the OccupyLondon website.

In London, the Occupy movement used the #occupylsx, #occupylondon, and #olsx as trending terms for twitter. Their website, occupylondon.org.uk, has all the information about events, social media, getting involved, and donating. On the homepage is a declaration of sorts that declares their 10 initial statements, agreed upon by the hundreds of people that gathered on October 26, 2011 in front of St. Paul’s. October wasn’t the only uprising though – in May 2012, Occupy protesters at the Bank of England were arrested on a global day of action. During this day, thousands of people in cities including Athens, Moscow, New York, Barcelona and Madrid rallied their forces in protest of inequality. BBC News referred to the event as a powerful symbol. Protesters named the march “visiting the 1%” and stopped at the largest banking institutions, including Goldman Sachs and Merrill Lynch.

Given all the so-called power of global influence, exposure, and support, how successful was Occupy London? Did the constant tweets, updates, and physical presence In a BBC article from after the removal of the tents, the sentiments are mixed. Overall, there is a sense that the movement was too disorganized, with too many ambitions and protesters with far ranging objections, which made the outcomes unrealistic. Occupy London focused on income inequalities, to which David Skelton, the deputy director and head of research at the Policy Exchange think tank, replied “Whether or not [the concept of the 99% and 1%] would have come about without the Occupy London camp is another argument.” (Cacciottolo, 2012) Another article from 2012, a year after the camps, found that the sentiments were mainly that Occupy London was ineffective in having real changes in attitudes and actions. The movement brought issues to policymakers attention, but further than that could not boast any tangible changes in feeling.

Right now, @OccupyLondon has 38,420 followers, almost 13,00 tweets, and thousands more re-tweets and tweets under their trending terms. @OccupyWallStNYC has close to 150,000 followers (for comparison). From the information I’ve uncovered in various articles, social media had a limited impact on the Occupy London movement. This is different from what I expected, considering that the London Stock Exchange is such an important piece of the global market.


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Why Groupon Works

// Posted by Celia on 03/03/2013 (2:48 PM)

Why is Groupon so successful? Jonah Lehrer, a writer for Wired, believes that there is no neuroscience behind Groupon’s business model. Another Wired columnist, Steven Levy, refers to the company as an overhyped coupon distributor. The notion… Read more

Why is Groupon so successful? Jonah Lehrer, a writer for Wired, believes that there is no neuroscience behind Groupon’s business model. Another Wired columnist, Steven Levy, refers to the company as an overhyped coupon distributor. The notion of collecting coupons has existed for decades, but the rise of the Internet has given the consumer a whole new way to forage for discounts. Groupon has sought to target the parts of the brain that worry about price and spending money, rather than targeting parts that respond to sensory stimulation, such as smell. For example, the zoom-in feature allows the shopper to see the product in even greater detail. In an experiment with undergraduate students, their exposure to an item triggered their nucleus accumbens (NAcc). An interest in the item revealed a spike in activity. The price tag of the item activated the prefrontal cortex and the insula. Using these different reactions form the brain, scientists were able to predict the subject’s decision before it was made. The thrill of getting something new often could not compete with spending the money.

 

Groupon (and other online retailers) could focus on stimulating the NAcc or on restricting the prefrontal cortex. The first is achieved through marketing and making the customer feel the need for an item. The second is a delicate process, making sure that the consumer feels like he/she is getting the best deal on an item, or the most benefit for the price. With so many retailers today, most people just open their smartphone and perform a quick Google-search to price compare and make sure it really is a good deal. Groupon competes with those discounts, but also gives the consumer a limited time frame for decision making.

Overall, Groupon has to make up for the lack of tangible contact available with their products. Detailed pictures, elaborate descriptions, and low prices all work to draw the consumer’s attention without activating the “buyer’s remorse” feelings. The company supports local businesses, but has also altered the way we look at list prices. Now because of Groupon, most services are available at a discount as long as you wait long enough. Massages, exercise classes, and salon services are just a few examples of products that appear on a daily basis on Groupon.

I have been a pretty satisfied Groupon user, with only a few complaints about their “fine print” being a little too restrictive. I think I definitely fall victim to the mindset of “it’s such a good deal, how could you not buy it?” While I was in Australia, I wanted to get my SCUBA license so I checked Groupon  Australia to see if there was anything out (because normally it’s about $5-700) and sure enough, within a few days I was able to get a coupon for $100. This example further illustrates my consumer mindset that I can find pretty much anything at a cheaper price than full. Groupon is even able to discount things that never go on sale, such as sunglasses, by offering “$25 for $75″ at a given store (aka Sunglass Hut). Think about how you have been impacted by discount retailers. I’ll be the first to admit I’ve fallen into vicious online spending habits given the convenience and (perceived) great deals.


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How WikiLeaks Blew It

// Posted by Celia on 02/25/2013 (8:45 PM)

This man, Julian Assange, has become the face of WikiLeaks. As the founder, he created the network of secrets and successfully leaked many sensitive documents. What he may not have realized at the time is that his image had… Read more

This man, Julian Assange, has become the face of WikiLeaks. As the founder, he created the network of secrets and successfully leaked many sensitive documents. What he may not have realized at the time is that his image had a strong influence on people’s perception of the website. Assange’s anti-American attitude was revealed in his selections of leaks. A majority of the leaks were targeted at American government and organizations. WikiLeaks biggest mistake was adopting a clear political agenda. The WikiLeaks were directly based on Assange’s political views, meaning that his followers mostly ascribed to a certain belief system. The site didn’t start this way, but since 2010 it has progressed in this light. Assange’s personal affairs have contributed to a decreasing credibility from his followers. The US government is less willing to compromise and/or work with Assange, given his obvious anti-American feelings. The article which Assange promised to leak about Russia was never real eased, raising eyebrows about the documents actual existence. WikiLeaks also has a reputation for secrets of its own, mainly with associated mainstream media. The site is reported to have gone behind editors’ backs and take articles personally.

Assange’s “chamber of secrets” is in its collapse-mode, according to an article in Foreign Policy last August. The site has lost the reputation for supplying accurate and credible information to the public. The political agenda of the website also dissuades readers from taking the content at face value. Assange’s personal life also impacted the website. When Assange was accused of sexual assault, the organization was impacted because of the inherent connection between the creator and his product. The article I read takes the side that WikiLeaks will not make a comeback from its current situation. While I agree with the main points of the article, I believe that either at the end of the standoff in the Ecuadorean embassy or before then, a new leader/face of WikiLeaks will emerge. The world has a demand for secrets and inside information – so many people are yearning for that inside knowledge or a leak that could open a policy window for them. Somebody will continue this chamber of secrets, whether it is through WikiLeaks or not. The US government security has little external control over how these websites choose to expose information, but we can only hope that now the US systems are secure enough to keep hackers out of classified business. I’m not completely confident given the actions Anonymous is capable of.


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Hacked.

// Posted by Celia on 02/17/2013 (11:31 PM)

Identity theft and computer hacking are becoming increasingly prevalent in society. I have multiple friends who often have credit cards cancelled or bank accounts compromised because somebody accessed their information and either used the credit card with authorization or tried… Read more

Identity theft and computer hacking are becoming increasingly prevalent in society. I have multiple friends who often have credit cards cancelled or bank accounts compromised because somebody accessed their information and either used the credit card with authorization or tried to alter accounts. I have been fortunate enough for this to not happen to me, despite being somewhat naive with my accounts at times. The more I hear about these occurrences though, the more paranoid I get. An article in Wired from last year tells just one tragic story of a personal hacking victim. Mat Honan, a normal American with a family, a job, Apple products and an Amazon account, had his digital life erased for the sake of a practical joke. I found his story somewhat heart-wrenching and indicative of how scary the potential for collateral damage is. Honan’s hackers got access to his Amazon account and used the Amazon information to reset his Apple ID password. The two companies require different information to verify identity, allowing the hackers to get through without knowing the answers to security questions. With the Amazon account information, the hackers deleted Honan’s Gmail account. The Gmail account was only deleted after the hackers obtained access to Honan’s Twitter account. With the Apple ID information, the hackers remotely wiped all of Honan’s devices using the “Find My” application.

Once the Twitter account was taken over, the hackers used it to start trouble and send racist and homophobic tweets to Honan’s followers. Honan created another Twitter account and sent the hackers a personal message @ his old Twitter handle. As it turns out, the hack was not a personal attack, but rather a quest to gain control of Honan’s Twitter handle. In the process, Honan’s entire digital life was erased.

Interestingly enough, almost all of Honan’s frustration and anger about the situation was directed at himself, Apple, and Amazon. He was upset with himself for not backing up everything into the cloud and for using the same prefix for his email accounts, etc. Honan recognized that his accounts could have been more secure. The frustration with Apple and Amazon exposes both of the companies for having a weak security framework. The people at Wired were able to replicate the scenario with instructions from the hackers within minutes.

The implications of Honan’s story are scary. I found myself feeling emotional during the article and frantically thinking about where and how all my information is shared and stored. Just the mere thought of losing all of my songs, photos, documents, and emails is enough to send chills through my entire body. Today, we put so much trust in the Internet and associated entities, but how safe is that? I think it’s definitely too late to transition back to physical/tangible data storage, but how can we be sure that the companies we’re trusting with our “lives” are keeping our best interests in mind? The article made me feel like a slave to the system – just another pawn on the chess board. How can we (as the average consumers) protect ourselves and get the power back for security?

I really recommend reading the entire article!


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Skype me!

// Posted by Celia on 02/11/2013 (11:28 AM)

“When you become a verb, you know you’ve made it.” -Doug Amoath, Time Tech

Today we have options far beyond just a cell phone. Even years ago, Skype offered a cheaper alternative to a landline. How did they… Read more

“When you become a verb, you know you’ve made it.” -Doug Amoath, Time Tech

Today we have options far beyond just a cell phone. Even years ago, Skype offered a cheaper alternative to a landline. How did they do it? Like Kazaa and Napster, Skype is founded on a peer-to-peer network. The more people that use it, the better the connection, which was particularly useful in sparsely populated areas. Then, people in cities wanted to be connected also and the network grew. Ebay bought Skype for $2.6 billion, which seemed like an astronomic number at the time (2006). In 2011, Microsoft then purchased Skype for $8.5 billion. Experts speculated about the sanity of Microsoft; whether the investment would prove to be monumental and profitable…or a colossal waste of money. Skype is referred to as a “disruptive” technology; whereby people are able to call across the world for free, instead of signing up for an expensive cell phone plan. Microsoft is now integrating Skype into many of its products, proving that the purchase was a smart one. From Xbox 360 to Outlook, all users will be able to take advantage of Skype capabilities. Microsoft owns a large share of Facebook also, meaning that you can expect to see Skype starting to penetrate the social network realm even further.

As a dedicated user of Skype, I have only ever spent $10 on the entire product. That has lasted me through numerous international phone calls and saved me significant amounts of money from using a landline. What are the implications of Skype expanding more into other arenas? Even now from my cell phone I can Skype my friend in Africa on WiFi for free. The possibilities seem endless, and as a consumer I feel like I’ve definitely gotten the most out of the application. Now we’re seeing the rise of WhatsApp and Viber, applications that let you call and text literally for free (well, WhatsApp is $.99). Even so, both these applications have really outdone themselves. The only trick to the app is that your friend on the receiving end needs to have it also. Seems easy enough right? I wonder what the long term effects on cell phone companies and plans will be, since as things become free, less people are willing to pay for services.


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Where is Stewart Brand now?

// Posted by Celia on 02/07/2013 (11:15 AM)

Two months ago, I had no idea who Stewart Brand was. Now, I’m wondering where someone so influential in a field that has changed the culture of the world ended up. The legacy of Brand includes the Whole Earth Catalog, and the… Read more

Two months ago, I had no idea who Stewart Brand was. Now, I’m wondering where someone so influential in a field that has changed the culture of the world ended up. The legacy of Brand includes the Whole Earth Catalog, and the Global Business Network, among other accomplishments and associated cultural movements. Today, Brand has kept up with technology, but has taken the technology in a different direction. His most recent book, Whole Earth Discipline, focuses on the environmental technologies that are necessary for combatting inevitable Climate Change. Brand’s attitude is that of a strong environmentalist, with serious concern for climate change and the impacts. He believes that we have the necessary technologies to solve our ecological crises, but the power is in the hand of the people and politicians to take a stand. The ideals of his past appear in his theories today. Brand vouches for cities over rural areas, saying that it results in a more sustainable, wealthy culture over time. Cities, in Brand’s eyes, could be the solution to the population bomb. Brand also supports the idea that nuclear energy is cleaner than any other possible alternative. The amount of waste from a person’s lifetime in nuclear energy would equate to about one cup.

While I think Brand has sound points, his ideals are too radical for the world he created. I don’t think that Brand will be able to have such a magnetic influence in today’s age as he did in the counterculture period. As a fellow environmentalist myself, I would love to see some of these policies translated into action, but in terms of the political climate, I find it hard to be optimistic. A lot of Brand’s peers who were directly involved in the cyberculture revolution ended up working in banking or finance, but Brand continued to forge a path of innovation and change.

Brand, Ted Talk


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The Free Encyclopedia

// Posted by Celia on 01/31/2013 (11:03 AM)

Growing up, the “Encyclopedia” was an extensive set of 20 or so books that lined our family bookshelf in alphabetical order. I could look up basically anything I wanted and find at least a paragraph about the topic. The books… Read more

Growing up, the “Encyclopedia” was an extensive set of 20 or so books that lined our family bookshelf in alphabetical order. I could look up basically anything I wanted and find at least a paragraph about the topic. The books were easy to use and exciting. I loved projects that required me to look things up.

Enter 2001 and the “Encyclopedia” now had a new definition: Wikipedia. It started with an idea and 100 volunteers on a mission to create thousands of entries about pretty much anything. The pages also included the option to edit now, giving all users the option to contribute to the existing information. The concept challenged human interaction in a public forum; the pages were supposed to maintain unbiased and just communicate the facts. The pages were constantly changing, for better or for worse. Wikipedia.com was the first fluid Encyclopedia. Then, it became the Free Encyclopedia.

The evolution of the Wikipedia logo ^^ (from Wikipedia.com)

The creation of Wikipedia strikes me as similar to Stewart Brand’s Whole Earth Catalog  whereby it represented a collection of various tools, items, and products compiled in a manner to appeal to the “New Communalists” and the “cowboys and nomads.” Both Wikipedia and the Whole Earth Catalog strike me as conglomerations of products and theories of their decades. Brand’s Catalog offered new ways to approach the computer. Wikipedia embodies an example of a fresh approach to personal computing, communal knowledge, and social forums.

An article in the New York Times published Septemeber 20, 2001 was used for the factual pieces of this post. The article can be found here.


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The Girl Who Cried “Fire”

// Posted by Celia on 01/28/2013 (10:27 PM)

This weekend, a terrible fire occurred in a Brazilian nightclub called “Kiss.” The club was filled far beyond its capacity, which lead to further chaos when the fire broke out. It spread faster and was difficult to contain. Over 230… Read more

This weekend, a terrible fire occurred in a Brazilian nightclub called “Kiss.” The club was filled far beyond its capacity, which lead to further chaos when the fire broke out. It spread faster and was difficult to contain. Over 230 people were killed and the scene described in related articles is disturbing and tragic. Could the fire have been saved by social media?

The Huffington Post published an article about a 20 year old in the club who posted a Facebook status within an hour of the disaster. The post read “Incéndio na KISS socorro,” which translates to “Fire at KISS help.” The post received many comments, including one that said “the last check-in.” The girl who posted the status died in the fire, alongside hundreds of others. The fire appears to have been started as a result of pyrotechnics used in the band’s performance.

Another article in the Huffington Post about the incident says that the band that performed on this night feels threatened through social media sights.  People have been making claims that they will have to pay and the band fears retaliation.

In this instance, we see social media for good and for bad. Well, the victim’s post could have been better if her Facebook friends had perhaps reacted in a more urgent matter. Does this stem from that people make over-dramatic statuses? Then there is the flip side, that the band is now receiving threats through social media outlets. How will they keep themselves safe when (probably) all their activity is live-posted and geo-tagged thanks to Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, Foursquare…

I find the situation simultaneously hopeful but discouraging. Social media is such a powerful tool, even has the power to save lives; in the physical and the metaphorical sense (think about FB campaigns that raise money). That being said, so often it is used for harm or for scheming. It’s so vast and basically impossible to control. If people could learn to harness the positive potential of social media outlets, the internet could become a less threatening space. What if you could tweet @911 (or the equivalent emergency hotline) and get a call or help immediately? Or text your location to a “HELP” line if you are in a situation and unable to make a phone call, i.e. a crowded club or the back of a kidnap van? The possibilities are there.

Facebook Post

Brazilian Nightclub Fire


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Reinventing Your Memory

// Posted by Celia on 01/24/2013 (11:50 AM)

Looking at digital media and social networking today, it seems like human memory is almost unnecessary at times. Facebook remembers what day and year every photo was taken, and can usually even tell you where you were at the time.… Read more

Looking at digital media and social networking today, it seems like human memory is almost unnecessary at times. Facebook remembers what day and year every photo was taken, and can usually even tell you where you were at the time. iPhones and other camera-phones have replaced (in many cases) the conventional disposable or digital camera, making it easier to document every moment. The need for post-its feels like its even decreasing, since now you can just take a picture to remember. With the technological advances, many human memories are accompanied by a picture, video, text message, or email to ensure you do not forget them. Forget what time you have a meeting next week? Not to worry, your phone will probably send you a reminder to make sure you don’t have to do any remembering (assuming you utilize your calendar function). “A Sense of Place,” an article in the February issue of Wired magazine, outlines the differences between retrospective and prospective memory. Retrospective memory deals more with the memorization of facts from the past, such as a peers names or hometowns. Prospective memory is trickier because it represents tasks, as exemplified by the calendar reminders that are necessary for some people to avoid slip-ups. Google is now searching for a way to further aid people in remembering the tasks that always seem to slip away until its too late. The tools that exist now are hardly perfect, based on GPS data that is not always accurate enough. The article “A Sense of Place” mentions that there is hope for a system that can remind you to remember your keys or have a “floating message” waiting outside the office telling you to go to the supermarket.

The idea of this seems somewhat surreal; in the way that conventional responsibility would be altered. If you forgot a meeting because there was no reminder, would it be your fault or the program’s fault? I would go as far as to say it almost adds another level of accountability whereby you have to ensure the system is running at 100% all the time. Unless someone reveals that the human memory is physically overextended, impairing ones ability to remember more, I think conventional memory and sticky notes is still the best method for making it anywhere.


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Need a lyft?

// Posted by Celia on 01/18/2013 (10:58 PM)

As cities become increasingly crowded, finding taxis and getting around can be quite a task. Especially if you do not have a car of your own. Now, thanks to a few startups, navigating cities has become easier and more pleasant.… Read more

As cities become increasingly crowded, finding taxis and getting around can be quite a task. Especially if you do not have a car of your own. Now, thanks to a few startups, navigating cities has become easier and more pleasant. Just look at the Lyft service in San Francisco. Founded on the platform of friendliness, Lyft offers a ride with a smile that is supposed to be an experience that parallels a “friend with a car on demand.” (Lawler, 2012) In order to become a Lyft user, you must download the app. The app works with GPS in the drivers phone to trace the cars and find a lyft near you. You can then request the car to bring you from point A to point B. Another service similar to Lyft is Uber, which started in San Francisco also but has moved to Boston, New York, Washington DC and more. Uber is slightly more luxurious and offers cars with the town-car/limousine effect. Lyft offers a rate similar (and sometimes cheaper) to hailing a cab, while Uber’s prices equate to about a cab and a half. Both are iPhone operated and working on Android apps. Uber faced backlash from city governments that argued against using GPS as a commercial mechanism as well as stating that the cars are not licensed cabs. Some critics claim that because the drivers are unlicensed, the user is at a higher risk. The truth is though, that the services use a multi-step, intensive background check to scan and test its drivers. In every city so far, the controversy has settled and Uber deemed officially legal.

With new startups like Lyft and Uber changing the way people move around cities, what will happen to the yellow taxis of New York City? Will there still be a need? As the app-run car companies become more popular, the influence on the existing street cab economy is unclear. Lyft and Uber offer more personal relationships with drivers and each user and driver has the chance to rate the other on experience, friendliness, cleanliness and more. This rating is then used for your profile and for example, someone with a higher score is more likely to get picked up than someone with a lower score. Convenience is a key factor; users have existing accounts, making the transaction cash/credit card free because the fee is just added to the account. People will theoretically no longer need to wait in the rain for a car, or run to the ATM to be sure to have cash for a cab. These small conveniences make a meaningful difference to a lot of users.

In my personal experience, both of these services have come in extremely useful in different situations. While Uber’s service is somewhat pricey in comparison to a normal taxi, I was able to get a car right outside of Grand Central Terminal in NYC around the holidays, a feat that is nearly impossible. In San Francisco, I took the Lyft service multiple times because street taxis were few and far between. In every instance, the driver was friendly and chatty. One driver even offered beverage and snack services! My experience with both services was more pleasant than an average taxi service and I would endorse both of them (if you’re willing to spend the extra dollars on Uber). It will be interesting to see how the industry of app-operated taxi service expands over the next couple years and how that growth influences street taxis.

Sources:

http://techcrunch.com/2012/08/25/lyft-san-francisco-launch/

http://www.wired.com/business/2012/08/uber/?utm_source=Contextly&utm_medium=RelatedLinks&utm_campaign=Previous


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