Friday, December 31, 2010

The Mesh

Reading Lisa Gansky's The Mesh. A friend highly recommended it to me after he read it.

Gansky's focus is the "streamlining of access to physical goods and services," in large part through web and mobile technologies (18). It's unfortunate that, living in the Pullman-Moscow, ID area, my access to these kinds of services will be limited. The author describes Zipcar as "a Full Mesh model" service, but looking at the cities and universities that have Zipcar services, you can see that the model succeeds in urban centers. Or, another way to look at it: the Mesh makes living in urban centers more affordable, and in smaller communities relatively less so.

Gansky notes that some companies are applying the lessons learned in open source software development to physical goods (60). This is a more compelling notion for me today than it would have been four or five years ago. The development of social networking technologies does fundamentally change a company's ability to take user feedback into account in product and service design. Thus, it's a meshing of the open source ethic and current information technologies that enable rapid service improvements and the creation of shared product services.

In terms of moving from owning to renting or leasing services: I can say that for computer support, I've made this move recently through the purchase of an Amazon Web Services [cloud] EC2 reserved instance. In a sense, I'm leasing my personal software development space. I still need a device that enables me to connect to this instance (via SSH for the Linux command line; via a web browser to review online sites), but it's a new - and more fulfilling - model for me.

It seems like if you follow Gansky's argument, that we're moving from an ownership to a sharing model, you have to accept the idea that the private sector will provide most of the services - because the public sector is shrinking as we speak. For example, when she notes the fact that more young Americans are opting not to obtain a drivers license when they reach age 17, she cites several public and private transportation options, including mass transit. But who's going to fund mass transit in 2010? Washington state is relatively progressive, but in the 2010 midterms, voters statewide opted to repeal an existing sales tax on candy and bottled water that was put in place to close the state's revenue gap. Candy and bottled water! The author's vision is noble, but the public's will is weak.

Somehow, I missed the St. Croix Falls Cinema story that the author describes in chapter 5 (see this article for info), but it is interesting that the chain (Evergreen Entertainment) now accepts credit and debit cards for tickets. Gansky's summary illustrates the power of social media, but reading the article at the above link (including the first two letters) provides a more informative account of what happened than the author provides in the book.

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