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Big Revolution - When the future isn't needed everywhere

Welcome to Thursday's Big Revolution. Let's dive straight in. – Martin
September 6 · Issue #193 · View online
Big Revolution
Welcome to Thursday’s Big Revolution. Let’s dive straight in.

Big things you need to know today
  • Facebook and Twitter have testified before US Congress about foreign influence in elections. Google’s chair was empty. Right-wing conspiracy theorists, claiming social media firms are biased against conservatives, also showed up. The Washington Post has an overview.
  • The new, large iPhone could be called the iPhone Xs Max, according to 9to5Mac. This would be a very confusing name that makes it sound more like a soft drink than a smartphone. We’ll find out the truth at Apple’s event on Wednesday next week.
  • Google has launched a new search engine for locating online datasets. Researchers will be interested in this one. As The Verge reports, it initially covers “environmental and social sciences, government data, and datasets from news organizations like ProPublica.
  • Snap has launched new styles for its Snapchat Spectacles product. Version 2 of the the glasses is apparently used 40% more than the original model, but that’s probably still not very much.
The big thought
Credit: Alvan Nee on Unsplash
Credit: Alvan Nee on Unsplash
When the future isn’t needed everywhere
Bike and scooter hire companies are viewed by many as the next big thing in transport. Just look at the current excitement about scooters in cities like San Francisco. But that doesn’t mean these companies are going to be big everywhere.
Chinese bike hire company Mobike has pulled out of Manchester, my home city, citing vandalism and theft as the reason. It claims to have lost 10% of its vehicles per month over the summer, as a result of anti-social behaviour.
Whether that figure is accurate or not, the bikes have certainly suffered a theft problem. I’ve seen a handful people riding ‘liberated’ Mobikes around as personal bicycles over the past year. So much for them being theft- and vandalism-proof, as the company claimed.
But after I initially felt intense shame that my city pushed an exciting company out, I’ve come around to the conclusion that perhaps Mobike just wasn’t a good fit. These rough calculations suggest that short hops around Manchester city centre by bike just aren’t that useful to many people.
Christopher Hackett
The withdrawal of #mobike from Manchester may also be due to shockingly low utilisation. Back of envelope calculation shows that the 250,000 trips on the estimated 2,000 bikes over 13 months about 2.22 trips per bike per WEEK.
Manchester city centre packs a lot into a relatively small space. It’s easy to walk across in 20 minutes, and there are free buses operating three circular routes, each running every 10 minutes, if you don’t want to walk. For logistical reasons, Mobike quickly stopped people using the bikes for treks out into the suburbs, or even to the media and technology district in Salford Quays, which would probably have been a popular trip.
Was blaming a small but noticeable vandalism and theft problem a convenient excuse for Mobike? ‘We didn’t tune our service to the needs of the city’ would be less acceptable to its investors and the press, after all.
Mobike says it may return with a rethought service in the future, but for now it continues to operate in other cities around the world.
When Uber launched in Manchester a few years ago, it was (its local general manager told me at the time) the first city worldwide to launch with the lower-cost UberX service rather than its more upmarket offering. This reflected the fact that students and young people without cars would likely be the best early customers to target in the city. They were right to do that. One template doesn’t work everywhere.
So, all those investors getting excited about the potential of ‘last mile,’ engine-free transport options should be aware: rapid expansion without spending time to study local markets in detail will lead to failure.
Just don’t blame the locals when it happens.
One big read
Bezos Unbound: Exclusive Interview With The Amazon Founder On What He Plans To Conquer Next
Forbes speaks to the wealthiest human being on Earth, and probably its most feared business person, too.
That’s all for today...
See you tomorrow. In the meantime, don’t forget:
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