Sidecar and Digital Reputation Systems

29 July 2012

Subscribe to Engineering Growth

Stay up to date on new essays and updates on Growth Engineering.

For the past few months I’ve been using Sidecar whenever I’m in SF. The service is a sort of Uber meets Gypsy cabs, allowing ordering on-demand everyday drivers, who will give you a ride across town at a price comparable or slightly cheaper than a Taxi.

A post about the service’s legal standing is probably worthwhile but not for me to write. Should you use Sidecar? Yes, if you’re looking for Uber-like service at Taxi-like prices and aren’t made uncomfortable by just how sketchy the whole thing feels. The service is invite-only for now, but if you’re in SF: here, have an invite (and 10 bucks).

The Reputation of ETAs

I am fascinated by digital reputation systems, having focused on them in my senior thesis.

Wait times matter. In the taxi world (where a few of the drivers I’ve met come from), operators keep track of passengers who repeatedly order cabs and then don’t show up. After a couple of no-shows, a phone number or address gets the equivalent of Hellbanned - if they order a cab again, the operator will tell them the cab is on its way and then just not send anybody, leaving the passenger stranded. It’s a cruel sort of system, but in lieu of a real-world consumer reputation system, it’s the only way I can think of for a cab company to punish poor behavior, like a waiter spitting in food.

In Sidecar’s reputation system, a passenger is rated 1-5 by drivers, but only once a ride is complete. A cancelled ride, then, is not globally stored within Sidecar’s system, at least in a way visible to drivers. The driver that was telling me this story compensates by “just remembering people” once they have skipped out on a ride or two. In one case, he accepted a ride that claimed to be fifteen minutes away and proceeded to “walk into a deli, order a sandwich and some chips, make small-talk with the owner, and then eventually come pick the guy up.”

The Solution

In Sidecar’s case, I propose a reasonably straightforward solution: give passengers a reasonable window within which to cancel (90 seconds? 120?). If they don’t cancel, add the notification to their reputation system (late-cancelled 6% of Sidecars). Let both parties know that this is criteria that drivers will see. You’ll get fewer cancellation and fewer drivers having to “remember people” and punish them passive-aggressively.

Tags: #cool products #review #behavioral economics