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The big industry headline this week was the massive boost to Uber's valuation, now at $40 billion. The ground transportation upstart has tapped technology to create a new niche for moving people around. Much of that success, however, comes from confusing certain terms, which most members of the media so far have not carefully considered.
I was reminded of this today while reading the Los Angeles Times front page article, "Upstart Uber outraces other tech models." The reporter writes, "Uber is more of a software company than a transportation company, taking a percentage of each transaction between driver and passenger."
Therein lies the most glaring inaccuracy of Uber media coverage. The Transportation Network Company (correct term) is NOT a software or technology company. It is a transportation company that uses software technology. If you apply the Los Angeles Times description of Uber, then any taxi, limousine, shuttle or rental car company that has any type of an app or interactive technology (e-mail?) as part of their operations could also be defined as a 'technology" company.
Netflix, to cite another example, is not a "technology" or "software" company. It is an Internet movie, programming, or entertainment service in the form of a downloadable app that uses streaming to deliver its product.
We see the same inaccuracy in the article with the term "ridesharing upstart." Rideshare is a 21st Century term for hitchhiking or carpooling. For-hire vehicles called up on an app are transportation. You are paying, not sharing. When money is exchanged, it's a transaction, not an act of sharing.
This point was underscored for me today when I lunched with a very smart friend of mine, a 30ish engineer in the aerospace industry, who said, "The problem I have with Uber is they call themselves rideshare. They're not sharing anything." By the way, he said he would never use a TNC for the obvious reasons we all know about in the limousine industry.
If the technology-rideshare mislabel approach to media coverage colors the judgments of regulators, then the limousine and taxi indusries will need to get clever and start redefining themselves as technology companies as well. In fact, every viable business now uses technology, and software, in some form to communicate and to transact with outside parties. Just deregulate them all and this controversy will be over.
We are all technology now. In fact, I'll take a cue from Uber and the Los Angeles Times by appropriating all Times content into a digital format of my choice, and then call myself a "technology company" and "media upstart." Why should traditional copyright rules apply to me, if taxi and limo rules don't apply to Uber? I'm just connecting people.
SurveyMonkey data shows passengers have gotten so hooked on TNCs that the companies could increase prices further.
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