Thursday, December 25, 2014

XBox One Sucks

After repeatedly attempting to fix the XBox One, I have deemed it a lost cause. It's a complete POS. If I had a little more Elvis in me, I'd shoot the damned thing. Will you be joining me in the line to return yours tomorrow?

XBox One FAIL: Microsoft Xmas Nightmare Continues (updated)

Ah, the joys of Christmas. A quiet day where you can sit around and play with your new toys -- unless your toys don't allow you to connect to XBox live and play with them.

So far, no connectivity for me. These are the days when you start thinking, "If I have to pay for a year of XBox live and Live is unavailable during that time, shouldn't Microsoft be refunding me for the time that I wanted to play, payed for access, but couldn't get on?"

Seriously though, right now I'm building a significant level of regret from having purchased this POS system in the first place. If someone were to ask me right now, would I recommend the XBox One or any other Microsoft product, the answer would be an unqualified NO.

Just for fun -- and to confirm some things that I already suspected -- I decided to fire up the XBox 360. As expected, it connects to XBox live, it remembers my XBox live profile and, more importantly, it WORKS. With the XBone, I feel like one of those poor bastards who got stuck with Windows 8 instead of Windows 7 or XP, older software that actually works.

And just for comparison, I restart the XBone -- it still doesn't work. I think it's getting ready to make it's way back into the box and get returned to the store. This device is still just not ready for public consumption, which is laughable when you think that this system came from the people who have years of experience making the XBox 360.

XBox Live Hack, Cloud Services and Nightmare of Christmas

This morning I got fired up the XBox One Console to discover that I wasn't connected to XBox Live. After several attempts to reconnect, I noticed the alert message complaining about a problem with "Core Services". While the XBox One offers some limited functionality when it can't connect to the XBox Live cloud, connectivity is a core part of how many games on the platform work, so when it can't connect, it's not happy. So problems with XBox Live equals problems for the XBone. Not a great Christmas present.

A quick check online revealed stories like this and this about hacks to the XBox and Playstation networks. These types of denial of service attacks are compounded on Christmas as many new systems are fired up for the first time and a wave of actual new users attempt to connect to the system. It's similar to what happened a couple of years ago when Apple's networks suffered under the load of a ton of new iPhone and iPads coming online. Still, you'd think that companies like Microsoft and Sony, as aspiring online media content hubs, would have a more robust, scalable infrastructure in place.

Seriously, it's one thing to have been surprised by a scaling impact a couple of years ago, but if you're building a modern cloud platform now, it's like approaching a yellow light from a couple of blocks back and being 'surprised' by a red light.

But this is also one of the reasons why designing the XBox One to be so fundamentally linked to the cloud seems like a strategic weakness. While it's true that many of the modern games depend upon Xbox Live connectivity in order to provide multi-player support, with the Xbox 360, you can do just about everything else even if you don't have access to a network. Trying to play some of games on the XBone this morning, I've suffered repeated failures -- even without attempting to use any networked component.

Frankly, I'm glad that I'm not depending on this device to be the cornerstone of my media center.

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

XBox One Platform Follow Up

This is just a brief follow up on my earlier review of the XBox One platform. We started a new game -- Dragon Age Inquisition -- last week after burning through the buggiest Assassin's Creed ever.

I can safely report that we've experienced no crashes, freezes or glitches on the platform in the new game. I still don't love the software interface, but if good code runs on it, the system works.

Monday, December 22, 2014

Uber and the Moral Problem of Surge Pricing

Here is an interesting piece about the economics of surge pricing from an editor at the Harvard Business Review. It comes as Uber faces more outrage when, in response to the recent Sydney hostage crisis, surge pricing kicked in on Uber.

While it's easy to feel a bit cynical about the motives of a business when they promote the socially good aspects of their business practices, it's surprising to see the reality of an amoral profiteering engine, the Uber pricing algorithm. It makes you wonder, will people maintain a long term business relationship with a company that operates with no moral or ethical framework? Or, does a business need to find some mantle of good citizenship to wrap itself in lest it become a pariah?

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Whole Foods and the Myth of the Workplace Team

Here's an interesting post that I came across from a guy that worked at Whole Foods in San Francisco. My Whole Foods nightmare: How a full-time job there left me in poverty by Nick Rahaim details some of his experiences working at Whole Foods. It's an interesting read. I think that there are a couple of interesting take-aways from the piece.

From his description, it sounds like a strong bond developed between co-workers. The irony is that, while many businesses try to build this kind of connection, in Whole Food's case, it appears that the unifying factor is salary and union concerns. Imagine if that weren't the case and, instead, that team approach was directed entirely toward the customer experience.

In the piece he references a store meeting where they are are given a "vote" on which benefits to cut because of "Obamacare." In the article, he points to Whole Food's stock price, but possibly a better indicator would be profitability. Essentially, shareholders reap increased profits on the backs of the underpayed "team" members. Its surprising that they don't fold more of that profit back into the engine of the business. And yet, this is the problem with the alignment between the performance of a stock and the "success" of the business.

There is another irony in that, Whole Foods tends to cater to an upscale customer, and that most are probably shopping there because they feel a sort of "harmonizing with all of society, hippy coop" sort of vibe. And Whole Foods exploits this image, through in-store experiences and interactions with the staff in the store. It's also part of the reason why people are willing to pay higher prices and Whole Foods is able to command higher margins than many of their competitors. What do you think the impact would be on the Whole Foods customer base if Whole Foods employees -- the friendly staff that the store's customers interact with -- were broadly thought to be treated in the same way as employees of Walmart? It seems like a rather precarious business strategy.

Friday, December 12, 2014

The Alliance, Company Values: Good Enough Isn't

As I mentioned in my recommendation of The Alliance, it's given me a lot to think about. One aspect that has stood out prominently for me recently relates to company culture and values. Often in Silicon Valley, we work with the idea of "Good Enough". Minimum Viable Product is all about good enough. At the same time, when we deal with our internal culture and our relationships with employees, good enough isn't really good enough.

Don't get me wrong. Many businesses approach their employees with a Good Enough mindset. Good Enough is the checklist version of employee relations -- just enough health insurance to make it seem like the business offers more than minimal coverage, hamburgers and hot dogs at the employee event, an Xbox because all of the other companies have one. It's the checklist that is disconnected from the why (beyond being a minimum threshold for having employees), and it's a symptom of a business that doesn't understand it's relationship in the alliance.

If there is one lesson that the HR department should learn from us marketing types, it's that every action, every event, and every program should have purpose. It should convey a message.
 "For your holiday bonus, we've decided to give everyone a dollar."
Imagine that reality. Congratulations, you've just awarded every employee a holiday bonus; another check mark on the list of employee benefits. And yet most employees, if presented with this, would probably say, "why bother". Other than adding an item on a list, it's totally unrelated to employee needs or interests. Imagine if it were 50% discount coupons to Disneyworld? It's the HR equivalent of spam. Maybe you get response in the 1-3% range. Is that the way that you want to connect to the "corporate assets" that you depend on to produce the good shit?

At best, a good enough mindset and checklist employee relations is simply disconnected from its "constituent base". At worst, it's a trigger for anger at the organization -- "if you can't be bothered to take my interests into account, why should I care about the things that you say are important?"

And yet, regardless of how counter-productive Good Enough may be for employee relations, it's pervasive and it isn't going away. Why? Because these are the metrics that have been established to measure HR. Salary. Benefits. Costs. And because many businesses don't approach things like, 'we want the very best people, we simply need Good Enough.

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

XBox One and Assassin's Creed Unity Bundle: A Review

The holidays are upon us and with it, toys, gadgets and new technology that speaks to the kid in all of us. From a pricing standpoint, the time around Black Friday is one of the best times to buy a gaming console. Often you'll find prices that are unmatched during the rest of the year. Last year, with the launch of the Xbox One and the PS4 consoles, it was another round of the console wars. And while the media plays it as a simple "which platform to choose" queestion, like switching cell phones or operating systems, the decision isn't as simple as this one or that one, with the entrenched user base and established locks playing a factor in the overall decision. In short, if you were already playing on one platform, upgrading was one consideration; but, switching across platforms, that requires a different level of consideration.

For people who have gamed on the Xbox console, Microsoft didn't make it easy with the Xbox One. When announced, the Xbox one had lower graphic performance specs that the PS4, forced you to use a Kinect, and forced an online presence and licensing terms that would limit the viability of the used game market. When the introduction of the XBone was met with a collective, "really?", Microsoft began a PR war, backpedaling from some of these features, bumping the processor speed, and enabling a "software disable" for the Kinect. Still, it wasn't enough and the sales of XBone lagged behind the "you can't find one" PS4 during the 2013 holiday season.

In 2014, you also saw game makers rolling out their new games on the Xbox 360, possibly offering an XBone version, but not forcing a migration. The Xbox 360 hadn't been EOLed, it was just quietly continuing to be good enough for most users. For many Xbox platform users, XBone was a "perhaps sometime in the future" upgrade, worth considering once Microsoft stopped acting so much like the Microsoft that rules the world and more like the Microsoft that made "the gamer's" platform.

For the holiday season in 2014, Microsoft began offering a Kinect-less Xbone, priced lower than the PS4. Theoretically, with a year of manufacturing them, they've worked out some of the hardware issues, but you never know -- Xbox has a long history of things like RROD. But hey, now with the XBone, they've completely eliminated one of their historical hardware problems, there is no more red ring.

And with the holidays comes game bundles. There are a couple of options for 2014, but Costco was offering a semi-black-Friday deal on the Assassin's Creed bundle, with the new Assassin's Creed Unity and Assassin's Creed IV/Black Flag. Black Flag came out last year and was available on the Xbox 360, but Unity is only available on the one (or PS4). After a bit of debate and some comparison of the upcoming pricing options, we decided to buy the bundle at Costco, reassured by Costco's awesome return practices that if anything went wrong, we could bring it back.

Of course, wrong doesn't begin to address the software train wreck that currently resides inside that plastic.

First, the XBox One
With some excitement and pics texted to gaming friends, we completed the ceremonial unboxing. Then, it was time to plug it up. After some basic configuration, the first thing that the "I Must Have Broadband" XBone wanted to do was a system update -- a nearly 1GB download. Having completed it's system update, it then walked you through a series of privacy agreements and basic interface settings before dropping you into the chaotic mess that is the basic OS, sort of a Windows 8 inspired assortment of tiles.

When you're dealing with a touchscreen like a tablet or a phone, you can it's easy to jump from one area of the screen to another. Not so with a mouse. It's even worse with the joystick on a game controller. I'm not a fan.

Perhaps the worst feature of the interface is this "Snap" feature. If you pop the power button on the controller, up pops this snap sidebar. This sidebar will stay with you regardless of the what's going on on the other screen. At one point in the midst of game play and trying to adjust settings, the snap bar popped open and it took fifteen minutes of back and forth between the main interface and the game just to get the snap sidebar to close -- because multi-tasking is so important when you're playing a game on a console.

Another thing that set off the horrific Snap experience was the search to try and change the brightness output on the XBone. The search for settings adjustment in the XBone was another 30 minute affair, punctuated by landing in a "calibrate your display for Xbox", that basically informed you to change the settings on your TV. The XBone isn't too dark, it's your TV that doesn't work correctly.

Multi-tasking and Retained States
The XBone has some features that seem like they'd be handy if you're a gamer and you have a one-to-one relationship with your console. When you restart the XBone, if you are logged in as the same person playing the same game as your last session, it remembers where you stopped and it restores your session -- no more re-watching the launch screen, you're back in the action at the same place that you left. Unfortunately, if that place was an interface bug (a common event in AC Unity), simply closing out of the game will not remedy it.

Again, if the purpose of this device is to be your entertainment center controller, then you may find this level of retained states and multi-tasking support helpful, but if you think your game console something that you want to play games on, then you may find this to be yet another feature that you curse about on the system.

Assassin's Creed Unity - The Crashiest AC EVAH!
After updating the XBone and sifting through the OS to find where to enter the game download code, next it was time to download the new AC Unity. I queued it up and began the download. In reading the paper disclaimer, it notes that AC Unity can take up to 50GB of space on your XBox hard disk. This was going to be a massive download, so I decided to make dinner while it downloaded. As I started to make dinner, I thought that it might be handy to put something on the TV while making food. On the Xbox 360, we have the Amazon Prime app installed, and we'll sometimes use it. As I went to fire up Amazon on the XBone (one of the tiles), it told me that I needed to download the updated app -- which it happily queued behind my AC Unity download. No multi-threaded downloads on this system.

What did surprise me though was, partway through making dinner, the console informed me that AC Unity was ready to play. Surprising, but it seemed like it would let me start with 'enough' downloaded -- sort of like a cached streaming video. What it seemed to do though, was let me play through an extended opening sequence before gearing itself up for a much longer complete download with no additional opportunities to play before the download was complete.

So let's talk about the game play
My first experiences with the game were... dark. Really dark. This is what sent me on the hunt to adjust the settings on the XBone, within the AC game, somewhere. There is a line between dramatic and playable, Assassin's Creed Unity seems to cross that threshold repeatedly. Several "night time" sequences were so dark, they were virtually unplayable. As with many aspects, it's difficult to measure whether this is the XBone or the AC Unity game.

By the time I did get to a daylight portion of the game, I was excited by the high resolution graphics. However, as I started playing through one of the 'chase' segments, I initially found the graphics to be a bit frustrating as it made it more difficult to identify and separate the important details from the unessential random graphic details.

There are other things that become more immediately apparent that you have probably read in other reviews. Probably my favorite in the Assassin's Creed series is AC 2. There are aspects that make the game like a tour of historic Italy. There's an immersive level of Italian language, including a fun level of Italian swear words. AC 2 is why "merda" and "requiescat in pace" entered my lexicon. But with Unity, while we have the French Revolution and all of it's immersive graphics, we get a comprehensive British accent overdub of everything. Despite Ubisoft's links to Montreal and, one would expect, the ability to turn out a product with some level of French feel, instead we are left with an environment that seems far less immersive that the version of the game that's five generations older. Devolution.

The other thing that has been an ongoing devolution in the series has been this increasing emphasis on cool action "parkour"moves. Sure it makes for cool video sequences to see your character make running, sliding hops over tables and under gates, but it seems as though many of these are added while sacrificing overall playability. And, while it's mildly amusing the first time your Arno character does a little cartwheel-like spin at the top of the building, it becomes rather tiring rather quickly. Similarly, the parkour emphasis means that sometimes your free run along the outcroppings of buildings will be supplemented by grabbing the building wall and doing a blind spin -- visually interesting the first time you do it, but equally as likely to interrupt your run and send you off in a direction that you didn't intend to go.

Simpler is Not Always Better
Free running has been evolving over the course of the series. At one time, you needed to use a combination of buttons to free run, but with Unity, you free run by pulling the trigger and use the A or B button as a modifier for "up" or "down". On the one hand, down makes a handy way to down-climb from a building, regardless of what the side looks. It also reduces the number of times that you find yourself accidentally leaping off a building and desyncing. At the same time, it's taken some of the challenge away. You hardly need to control your direction as the software will land you on the right place most of the time.

This same "make it simpler" has changed several other aspects of the climbing interface. While AC2 featured climbing puzzles that could frequently frustrating in their "you must be facing in exactly this direction and execute the correct key combination to make a side-leap off a wall in order to reach the ledge" kind of challenges, AC Unity has virtually removed things like jumping backwards from a hanging position on one wall to grasp at a ledge or handhold behind you. Now the interface features "Wall Eject" as an option, but more often than not, it doesn't even work. Even "Drop" sometimes doesn't work. This leads to numerous game hangs if you find yourself in a buggy location. I've gotten hung on a wall inside a building, two feet above the floor, in a corner next to a plant -- and the interface wouldn't accept any inputs. I would rather accidentally leap to my death than have the safety on the interface say, "nope".

Which brings me to another problem with the interface on this. Often, the engine finds itself switching back and forth between views as you jump between buildings. It's related to the not being able to do the back leap and the engine's seeming desire to give you a straight-ahead view. With several rapid changes in perspective, it becomes easy to lose any sense of real location. Sometimes during a fast down-climb, you'll find yourself facing the wrong direction and, correspondingly, interrupting your descent.

At the same time, one of the cool features is the number of "inside building" spaces that you have. Now, buildings are no longer solid objects, instead having floors and complete inside environments. For the most part, the inside buildings are a nice addition, but it's often frustrating trying to go through a window, even when the tip suggests "use left trigger to enter a window". In all, I would say that windows are still buggy.

Speaking of Bugs
You've probably heard and read a lot about the bugs. The AC series has always been kind of buggy, but Unity takes it to new levels. Playing on a recent Sunday, I think that the game went through eight or nine crashes that forced it to reboot. Essentially, it was play for 45 minutes or so, then crash. Repeat. Finally, midway through a memory mission, when I got hung up on the wall, I quit for the day. Gave up.

It's so buggy that, around Thanksgiving weekend Ubisoft pushed out a large update with something like 3000 bug fixes -- and it's still super buggy. They also sent an email providing the Dead Kings DLC to everyone for free. Another frustrating bug is this "Initiates" feature. Within the game, they've created this Initiates ranking that should link a registered user to their gaming history and provide them with access to things like additional clothing sets. It's the thing that remembers whether you finished the other Assassin's Creed games and things like that. The problem is that, for me and a number of users like me, whenever you try to connect to the Initiates function, it spits out an error and won't connect. That also means that a whole collection of yellow chests (and other in-game items) are essentially unavailable to you. Not a great experience for long term, theoretically loyal customers.

Multiplayer is Amusing
One nice thing about Unity is the multiplayer missions. Select a multiplayer mission and the software searches the cloud for others that are interested in collaboratively playing through a mission. Upon completion, everyone gets some skill upgrade points (only the first run through) and an armor item. While it may sound strange seeing another 1-3 people driving similarly enabled assassins through a collaborative mission, it's actually pretty cool. The missions with three or four tend to play better because they are less dependent on the coordination and collaboration between individuals. And yet, it's kind of interesting to see similar styles of game play and even, essentially uncoordinated collaboration towards a common goal. This is another nice addition.

XBox One and Assassin's Creed Unity: A Bundle Made in Error
Ultimately, there's a level of irony to the XBone / AC Unity bundle. The odds are pretty high that, if that wasn't a bundled option, we probably wouldn't have taken the XBox One console home this holiday season. Currently, there are still enough new titles -- like Dragon Age or Borderlands -- that are also available on XBox 360, that the change isn't quite mandatory. And while the graphics are nice, it's not so compelling an update that migration is a must.

At the same time, between the XBone interface and the bugs in the Assassin's Creed game, I must say that I don't love this console. Considering that, between sequences or fast travel transitions in Unity, it generates a load screen that takes a minute or more (which I believe may be related to the streaming loading of data) to resolve, it becomes a tiresome journey working your way through the game. As noted, the game has also generated more lock-ups and crashes than any console game that I've played, ever. As someone who's just stepped into this platform, it can be so bad that it might make you want to go back to the Xbox 360. We've been told by friends of ours that their experience with Halo not as bad -- like no crashes bad -- so it may be the software and not the platform. But still. I would have thought that somebody and Microsoft or Ubisoft would have said, it's not ready, you can't serve this to customers.

As for Ubisoft, I wish that they didn't seem compelled to crank out a new title each year and would instead focus on improving the depth and flow of the story and the gameplay. While we've been amused at how smoothly the graphics flow from cut scene to action with little degradation, couldn't we take advantage of that to reduce the number of cut scenes? Ultimately, I feel like Ubisoft has targeted a lowest common denominator demographic with the game play and the voicing where they could have done better bringing in closer to the AC 2 environment. I get the sense that they were drawn that way -- sort of the "let's get away from sailing" thing -- but still tried to keep it "safe".

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Uber and the Business that Isn't That Business

Over the past couple of weeks, I've watched as the various Uber scandals have played in the media. Or rather, I should say, the latest big Uber scandal and it's various associated threads. Several times I've felt compelled to write about the it and the various things that we've either learned or had reinforced over the past two weeks. Here are a few highlights for me:
  • Pando Daily gets my consistent reading attention because the writing and analysis is worth it.
  • Uber's visible, vocal flaunting of legal and ethical frameworks reminds me a lot of that once-vaunted company, Enron. The market loved them and they could do no wrong when the money machine was rolling, but then it wasn't. The blow-back was Sarbanes-Oxley. Remember this part? 'Taken directly from the act, a code of ethics comprises the standards necessary to promote "honest and ethical conduct; full, fair, accurate, timely and understandable disclosure in periodic reports;" and "compliance with applicable governmental rules and regulations.' Can you imagine the incoming congress fixing anything? Perhaps as long as it includes the option to ignore them for personal or religious grounds.
  • Ashton Kutcher. Really? Dude.
  • And then there's this, one of the more interesting things that I read about why you might want to consider deleting your Uber app. I know. It's Android, but still.
  • I think someone out there could write a long and eloquent post about the ludicrousness of a "sensationalistic" press writing about business
All of that being said, there's still a lot of discussion around how much money is sitting on table in this ridesharing market and whether, ultimately, that money supports an "end justifies the means" approach to business. Here's more analysis on "Why Uber Fights."

For me though, one thing that resonates is how Uber tries to play the "We're not THAT business" card. When facing cities and states with regulations governing taxis and limos, Uber says, "those laws don't apply to us. We're not a taxi company or a limo company. We're just facilitating connections between riders and drivers." And then, when it comes to the behavior of it's drivers, background checks, insurance or any of the other things that might cost money, the drivers are "not employees of Uber, we're just facilitating transactions between a driver and a rider."

Of course, this "outside of the lines of THAT business" approach stand in contrast to actual aspects of their business. For example, there's the blurred line between employee and contractor. Clearly, the goal of having employees be contractors is to escape many of the employer/employee relationship requirements. Similarly, while the company doesn't want to be categorized as a transportation company, a chunk of that investment warchest goes to fund a program where drivers can "borrow money" to buy Uber cars and the company can build out their fleet of "not Uber company" cars.

There are aspects of this approach that enable the company to grow faster, but you can rest assured that a significant percentage of their "not THAT business" approach is to skate between the lines and rules that bind the rest of the business world. It's as though they said, "this limit that says that a limo requires an advanced booking to pick up a passenger is wrong, so all rules are wrong". The reality is that there are reasons why many of these regulations and laws have made their way onto the books. And while the limits on booking a limo might have not kept up with the internet age and deserved disruption, that doesn't equate to all business laws, regulations and limitations being unbreakable.

Being a business that is "not THAT business" is a position that businesses take when they want to try and capitalize on a loophole. "Wouldn't it be nice if we didn't have to worry about this rule or that rule". Like ISPs not being liable for the content going through your broadband connection -- we don't have anything to do with what's going through the pipe until we realized we could make money inserting our ads to your content."

It may be that, by espousing a "between the ethical lines" strategy, a business can increase some short term profits. But in the long term, do these kinds of ethical gray areas pay off? Consider something like Silk Road, which probably adopted the notion of "not a drug dealer", instead just facilitating an online marketplace, a place where buyers and sellers could connect". Given enough government interest, it didn't really matter what gray area the people running it claimed, they were still arrested for criminal behavior.

Now it may be that there is not enough will within the government to "crack down" on these gray area definitions for Uber (the regulation bogeyman that conservatives hate), but that's just here in the states. As Uber expands into Europe and other international locations, some European governments are not as regulation-averse.

To date, Uber's approach has been to operate as though the on-demand ride has been an unjust barrier, then hoped that with enough adoption and positive public sentiment, they could overcome any regulatory barriers that were thrown up in their way. That approach is easier to execute upon when you're seen as a positive force, not a threat, a no-harm no-foul concession to technology changing the marketplace. But, as you push the envelope of legitimate business practices and people get threatened, hurt or feel ripped off, the tides can change.

Ethics, Morality, and The Mission Statement
It's one thing to look for exploitable loopholes. It's another thing entirely when that becomes the fabric of your business. Customers can understand and tolerate breaking a rule if that seems part of a bigger mission. Breaking one rule can make you seem principled. Break too many and you just seem slimey.

Ethics matter. Everyone jokes about Google's "Don't Be Evil" value, but consider -- despite many questions raised about aspects of their business, most people recognize that Google does good things with their products, technologies and practices. Or at least they try. Everything from free services to a loftier goal of scanning all of the books so that everyone has access to them -- these aren't things that are born out of a "how can I get leverage over the world" philosophy. And that's probably why people might be more likely worried about how Uber staff like Travis and his Bros might use their private data, where they wouldn't worry about Sergey and Larry in the same way. Sure people worry about what the ubiquitous Google is doing with their data, but it's unlikely that Google would publish their walk of shame/ride of glory.

Ultimately, if you look at the battle for this ride share market, there is this notion that the market is defined and it's just a matter of parsing the customer base. If Uber wins, it will own this market is the prevailing thought. I think what that seems to overestimate is our need for this service. Don't get me wrong, taxis and ride for hire has been around for a long time, but that doesn't necessarily translate to an automatic shift to Uber. While there are aspects of the taxi environment that we all may have encountered -- crazy drivers, unclean vehicles, and selective, sometimes limited support as examples -- there are still aspects of the service, like regulated fares, that have me choosing a taxi over Uber for many in-city rides.

But beyond that, there is this assumption that our need for a ride-share type ride outweighs any ethical limitations that might otherwise drive us to select an alternative. What happens when Uber drivers become like Internet fulfillment warehouse workers, run ragged on a barely minimum wage, indentured servants to the rider class. Will this ethical framework hold? Will there still be joy and enthusiasm in this service? Or will it be like Groupon, with unknowing shop owners leveraged into buy-one-get-one-free deals that drive a momentary customer boost at the expense of their quality, profits and reputation?

At some point, Uber will reach a tipping point, a time when it can no longer play the "not THAT business" card. In order to own it's quality, service and brand, it will need to become THAT business. Taking ownership would also mean taking ownership of it's management and it's ethics. Right now, it doesn't want to own anything -- it's not THAT business. But let's see how long that lasts.

Update: I stopped writing this post over the weekend and then I came across this piece on Pando talking about the differences between Uber and AirBNB. It's totally worth diving into.