Earlier this month, the city of San Francisco issued a cease-and-desist letter to parking spot auctioning startup Monkey Parking, alongside cohorts Sweetch and ParkModo. The apps allow users to notify other users when they plan on leaving their parking spot and auction it off to the highest bidder. Monkey Parking, however, disagrees with the city's take on the service, arguing that they are not selling off the spot itself, but rather information about the spot.
The "Sharing Economy", exemplified originally by companies like Uber or Airbnb, has been making waves in cities across the world as governments try to determine the line between legacy services and yet unregulated sharing economy apps.
Let the Sharing Battles Begin
This battle is the simply the latest in a series of battles between cities and burgeoning so-called "sharing" apps and highlights the fact that cities need to re-examine their current policies in the face of startups looking to disrupt the status quo. I believe the sharing economy is the future, but the tech industry should embrace the true meaning of "sharing" and ensure cities reap the fiscal rewards of policies that enable this new economy to thrive.
While companies like Monkey Parking argue that cities need to step aside in the name of innovation, perhaps we have reached the limit of "sharing".
Some argue that many of these sharing services are merely reincarnations of old capitalist machinations, but they clearly hold a characteristic in common—they allow the individual to share, or more aptly sell, their privately held property or service. Monkey Parking and others cross this line. Their claims to be merely selling information are an exercise in hair splitting and legal finagling. They are attempting to privatize a public resource and profit in doing so. What's next, shady spots in parks and tables with outlets at coffee shops?
On that note, here are three things the tech industry and any "sharing economy" company can embrace to drive this industry forward:
1. Give back.
The 1/1/1 model, a commitment to contribute 1 percent of profits, equity, and employee hours back to the communities a company serves, is a fundamental concept behind behemoth Salesforce and adopted by hundreds of other companies, including Google and Facebook. Sharing economy companies should share the wealth with the communities they affect and operate in, not just disrupt the status quo. While "disruption" is commonly regarded as a positive thing, it can have negative effects as well. Make the presence of your company in a community a net positive. Give back a part of what you reap and grow your public support.
2. Grow according to the will of the people.
Avoid lobbyists; take a grassroots approach. Don't just operate without the will of the greater public and don't rely on money to push against that will. Provide a service that truly serves the public and the public will get behind you. Take the current struggles of Lyft in Austin, Texas, for example. Though the city has said they cannot operate, the public has arrived at city council meetings and written in to the local papers in support. The companies have the will of the people and can spend it as capital.
3. Share the wealth...of information.
Would people be as opposed to Monkey Parking if the information it gathered on parking spots was available for other apps to access? Its assertions that it is helping the environment by lessening the amount people drive around looking for parking would be more credible if it were truly open to the public and not just exploiting a public resource for private gain. What if, as with traffic monitoring app Waze, this information could be seen freely by all on Google Maps or through other apps using their API?
These latest developments in the so-called "sharing economy" have pushed the limits of its intents and definition, and not in a good way.
We need more companies like newly $100 million funded BlaBlaCar, which helps people find rides over long distances, only reimbursing the driver for their portion of travel expenses. What profit does the driver make in giving a ride? Good will and humanity.
As the re/code headline explains, BlaBlaCar "plugs private cars into public transit" as opposed to Monkey Parking and friends, which take a public resource and make it private.
Which "sharing economy" would you rather live in?
About the Author
Davy Kestens is the CEO & Co-Founder of Sparkcentral, the fastest enterprise social media customer service platform available. Customer-centric brands leverage Sparkcentral’s real-time social customer service platform to engage with customers on Twitter and Facebook, helping to develop mutual trust between brands and individuals. Follow Davy on Twitter: @SparkCentralHQ
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