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The subtle power of decentralized transportation is on the verge of flooding the globe. But what does this mean, and how will it play out?
Let’s step back for a minute. Much has been written about the effect of social media on human loneliness. We have difficulties finding the connectedness that we yearn for even as we use digital technologies to cast wider nets for meaningful relationships, in a tragically Sisyphean manner. And yet we continue to push that boulder up the hill.
Digital platforms do play an important role in community building. They provide channels that were not available before, and solid friendships have formed between people with a lot of geography between them. There is some degree of a sense of belonging in many online communities, but that sense is easily shattered by negative feedback and cyberbullying. What digital communities do undoubtedly well is share social information.
But community is much more than just the sharing of information. Community is, in the incarnation best suited to this discussion, a sharing of values and well-being. That requires real-world interaction and for all of its members to have direct, unfettered access to one another. This is important: for a community to function in a manner that empowers everyone equally, there can’t be any gatekeeping.
This is, of course, diametrically opposed to the prevailing model, where online platforms are centralized with some authority (usually the business owners) dictating what can and can’t be done by its members. The authority can exclude members at whim, or restrict them in specific ways. A decentralized model, which I argue is the far more natural, humanistic one, allows each member to embrace or reject other community members based on their own criteria, and in degrees that they choose. Decisions are made by each member for each case, and not by an authority outside of that relationship.
Returning to the original topic: decentralized transport. Specifically let’s look at the shared electric scooter sector that has been taking the world by storm, and how decentralization will play a role.
Bird, Lime, Spin and others have dominated the early shared scooter landscape. There are familiar advantages that come with centralized organizations taking the lead and establishing a foothold in the markets with new technology: focused vision, reduced costs, system-wide decision making, and so forth. The disadvantages are just as familiar, although perhaps less talked about: delays due to remoteness, bureaucracy, lack of employee empowerment and therefore lack of initiative, etc.
Decentralizing the shared scooter business presents us with a vast new space for opportunities. Like so many models, centralization and decentralization fall on a spectrum. Although it’s safe to say that complete decentralization isn’t yet available, some powerful facets of decentralization, which represent the first steps, are.
Now let’s bring the tangent about the value of community into these thoughts and allow them to dovetail. Rather than leaving it to a micro mobility giant like Lime to deploy hundreds or thousands of scooters in your city, with the giant setting the price and terms of service, consider a decentralized version of this: shared scooters that are owned by your neighbours or fellow residents. They may only own one, or they might own a fleet of dozens. Your neighbours deploy the scooters. Your neighbours service them, charge them and redistribute them. Your neighbours hire other neighbours to help them manage the fleet. Your fellow residents are far better suited to choose where the scooters should be deployed in your city. Perhaps most importantly, a local business cares a lot more about your community then a distant corporate giant looking to blanket the world with its product.
Electric scooters have come down in price significantly in the past year, which translates into small capital outlays for anyone who wants to own a shared scooter (or more than one) in their community, creating revenue for themselves. Individuals within the community are empowered with the choice to be a customer, an owner, or both. No central organization decides what markets to open–this is up to city residents. All that is required is an app and a network with which decentralized transport assets and customers may discover and transact with one another. The former is under rapid development and the latter already exists.
Decentralization comes with a number of advantages, but the most important one for the purposes of this article is empowerment. You decide if you want to own a scooter. You decide where to deploy it. You decide how to address your community’s needs, and that’s perfectly sensible as you’re on the ground and you know what you and your neighbours need. The revenue that Lime or Bird would generate goes into their treasury. The revenue you or your neighbours generate from your own scooter fleet goes back into your local economy. Which is a better model for you and your community?
January 2, 2019 at 08:56PM
Forbes – Entrepreneurs