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March 24, 2013

Data makes labor market a two way street

The coming intellectual and societal upheaval brought on by the state of connectedness is aptly reflected in the recent fracas between Uber, a San Francisco-based personal transportation platform, and the freelance army of drivers who man its cars. They were protesting what they thought was unfair treatment by the company. "They're running a sweatshop with an app. They don't have the balls to come down and talk to us," Raj Alazzeh, a driver with SF Best Limo and a spokesperson for the drivers, told Liz Gannes. "Uber chooses to call us partners for their tax benefit. If they called us employees, they'd have to cover us all."

Follow-up stories including comments by Uber co-founder and CEO Travis Kalanick seem to indicate that the protesters are drivers whose accounts were deactivated because of passenger feedback. It is easy to understand Travis' standpoint - our customers don't like these drivers, so we are cutting them out. And I can understand the drivers' point of view: They have never been rated and discarded like this before, and are rightfully angry.

Are we ready for a Quantified Society

However, if you look at the story from the context of just Uber, then you will miss the real narrative. This isn't the last time we will hear about it -- there are more Uber-like companies with on-demand workforce. There have been incidents on AirBnB.

That last comment by Alazzeh resonated with me because it encapsulates what work will be in the future and what the next evolution of labor unrest could be. And it also highlights a problem we have not thought about just yet: data-darwinism.

In the industrial era, labor unrest came when the workers felt that the owners were profitting wrongfully from them. I wonder if in the connected age, we are going to see labor unrest when folks are unceremoniously dropped from the on-demand labor pool.

What are the labor laws in a world where workforce is on demand? And an even bigger question is how are we as a society going to create rules, when data, feedback and, most importantly, reputation are part an always-shifting equation? (Reputation, by the way, is going to be the key metric of the future, Quora founder and Facebook CTO Adam D'Angelo told me in an interview.)

-- Om Malik

March 18, 2013

Straight people are not women ?

The one question that Mr. Woo could not answer is how to develop a version of Grindr that works for straight people and women. The company tried to release an app called Blendr, but it has been far less successful that its predecessor.


March 16, 2013

Privacy constraints impair Google innovation

Google was becoming too big to manage, with far too many bits and pieces which could in theory help the broader company but which in practice, like Reader, just sat there using up resources and contributing very little in return. So Larry Page decided that he would start killing them off, and making Google more focused; I'm sure that decision was made easier by the fact that if Google now needs to control the amount of information it collects about people, it can't have engineers freewheelingly making unilateral decisions to start collecting exactly that kind of information. Dick Costolo's ideas were probably great in 2005; in 2013, they would be politically suicidal.

The result is that Google is going to be less of a utility, less of a public service, and more of a company with a constrained set of products. The problem with the death of Reader is that it was the architecture underpinning lots of other services -- the connective tissue of just about all RSS readers and services, from Summify to Reeder to Flipboard. You didn't even need to use Google Reader; it was just the master central repository of your master OPML list, all the different feeds that you were subscribed to. Google spent real money to provide that public service, and it's going to be sorely missed. As Marco Arment says, "every major iOS RSS client is still dependent on Google Reader for feed crawling and sync."

-- Reuters Felix Salmon.