How Uber saved me

There has been a lot of talking about Uber lately in Brussels, in Italy, in India, in Spain. Basically everywhere where this mobile-app-based transportation network is spreading with success.

Uber’s success struck the world’s taxi business like a lightening. Uber was founded as “UberCab” by Travis Kalanick and Garrett Camp in 2009 and the app was released the following June. It raised $49 million in venture funds by 2011. Beginning in 2012, Uber expanded internationally. In 2014, it experimented with carpooling features and made other updates. It continuously raised additional funding, reaching $2.8 billion in total funding by 2015.

Many governments and taxi companies have been protesting Uber, alleging that its use of un-licensed, crowd-sourced drivers is unsafe or illegal.

From the consumer’s point of view, Uber is an incredible service. It costs on average 3 or 4 times less than a cab, it’s incredibly user-friendly and It offers an amazing customer service. On these three points they really crashed the competitions of cabs companies in the Belgian capital. I won’t get into deep about the whole licensing issue (which is a very big issue) and I do understand the protests of taxi drivers who paid tens of thousands of euros to get their license and now they see their investment wasted by the advent of technological progress.

What I want to present is my own experience. Last 15 December I had a very intrusive foot and ankle surgery from which I’m still very slowly recovering. Needless to say, my mobility is still very limited. Before going back to work I was terrified of all the walking I would have to go through with public transports. I needed, and still need a car to pick me up and get me to work. If I had to use a cab for these daily movements I would have to spend roughly 25€ a day (going to work and come back). I would have to call an operator every time I need a cab and, speaking from experience, I wouldn’t know when exactly my cab would arrive to pick me up (so many times I have waited over 40 minutes to have a taxi home). With Uber I pay 8€ a day (4€ going and 4€ coming back), I usually have a car at my doorsteps between 4 and 8 minutes, and I can rate my ride and driver. I have a direct contact with customer service for whatever I need and I’m sure this feedback highly helps the company improve and meet its customers’ demands. I can only think of very technology-adverse customers not choosing this option. There are simply no reasons why anybody would take taxis over Uber apart from reluctance in purchasing online services with a credit card.

Apart from the pecuniary aspect (the big elephant in the room nobody wants to talk about) the service is just outstanding. A number of times, I was clearly ripped off by cabs in Brussels and most times cab drivers could use more manners. Furthermore, as I discussed in an article about cycling in Brussels, I still don’t understand what it is with cab drivers in Brussels hating cyclists, which is an issue I take personally and experience on a daily basis. When I take Uber this has never been an issue.

"Uberlogo" di Kobolen - Opera propria. Con licenza Pubblico dominio tramite Wikimedia Commons -
“Uberlogo” di Kobolen – Wikimedia Commons 

I even once had an unfavourable experience with Uber (he driver was texting while driving) and their customer service took prompt action in trying to understand how they could improve.

Uber is also a deterrent to cars-buying in a city that already suffers from over-use of automobiles and it’s notably the most congested city in Europe and North America.

What is your Uber experience? Do you think Uber and other car-sharing services will help Brussels reduce the amount of cars in the city?

The faces of Facebook

I bumped into this app a few days ago. A totally zoomable, totally clickable collage of every single person on Facebook, all 1.27 billion on them…including us! You can get directly to people’s page, which is kind of scary, but I suppose it’s like a phone directory. Faces of Facebook is aggregating the profiles of every user to give a birds-eye view of the social network. Here is what The Guardian says about this app.

Do you ever wonder about the first person to join Facebook after you? Probably not, unless you and a friend clicked the sign-up button at the same microsecond, in some weird social-network-based ritual, you’ve likely never met the person. Nor have you ever seen the face of the thousandth person to join the site, or the ten thousandth, the millionth or the billionth.

But once you’re given the opportunity to find those people, it can all get strangely compelling.

That’s what’s weirdly compelling about this new app which uses the site’s API to deliver, ostensibly, every profile pic on the site in one gigantic wall of colour.

The site was created by Natalia Rojas, a US-based creative technologist, and doesn’t actually show every user at once, of course. A conservative estimate of the size of every profile picture on the site is 30 terabytes (that’s 30Kb per picture multiplied by a billion users), and downloading that over the fastest residential connection in the UK would take a little over a week.

But if you hover your mouse over the shining pixels making up the backdrop of the site, it tells you the user number you’re hovering over. If you zoom in from there, you can see that user’s profile pic, as well as those of the hundred or so next to them on the wall of faces.

486e9478-5fc2-4905-bfc0-0104a6769edd-460x276 Continue reading “The faces of Facebook”

#iMinds 2013: What if…?

This article was also published on Waltzing Matilda Blog

Last 5 December I have had the pleasure to attend the iMinds conference in Brussels. iMinds is an independent research institute founded by the Flemish government to stimulate ICT innovation. iMinds brings together companies, authorities, and non-profit organizations to join forces on research projects.

The theme of the event was “driving digital innovation in Europe” and the leitmotiv of most presentations during the day was “What if…?” This question is the foundation of every invention, but of course an invention does not always turn into innovation. Because most challenges cannot be solved by a single effort or organization successful and innovative ideas need a structure.

One of the first lessons at this regards was given by Bart Decrem (SVP at The Walt Disney Company) who talked about his personal experiences in the Silicon Valley and his involvement in various projects and start-ups, leading up to the acquisition of his mobile gaming company Tapulous by Disney. Bart provided insight into the Disney strategy on mobile content and talked about the next big things he sees coming in digital technology.

My favourite quote from this part (and from the entire day) was “Successful apps are those that change people’s behaviour”

This is so true. In a market saturated with apps, many of which present very similar functionalities, the only ones deserve the “success” labels are those that managed to stick to people’s mind and actually make an impact on how people simply “do things.” Continue reading “#iMinds 2013: What if…?”

TagTagCity: when interactive search engines pave the way

Wandering around Brussels, I have been bumping more and more often in “tags”.  Especially around historical points of interest around the city, you can now find some red labels with a code that you can scan. Initially I didn’t know what that was and this is how I discovered TagTagCity.

TagTagCity is an interactive search engine that allows cities , shops, museums and other places to enter the SOLOMO (Social-Local-Mobile) world by creating a mobile website. With a simple click, places and objects deliver their secrets and advantages to users. They so far have more than 110,000 points of interest, as well as a total of 180,000 smartphone scans of its intelligent “TAG” labels placed around.

TagTagCityThe platform allows users to take maximum advantage of geolocalisation, integrated QR-code scanner, audioguide and various visualisations of places (by category or on a map).

To cut a long story short, TagTagCity recruits the best city guides: your friends’ network. Users’ Facebook environment (page likes, check-ins and those of his friends) is imported on their interactive map.

Inspired by the EU’s “Smart Cities & Communities” initiative, TagTagCity’s Smart Districts program is aimed at helping neighbourhoods to better communicate with visitors and residents. They use TagTagCity to make information about community life or cultural agenda available to all.