Benedict Evans

Winner-takes all effects in autonomous cars

Rather, the place to look is not within the cars directly but still further up the stack – in the autonomous software that enables a car to move down a road without hitting anything, in the city-wide optimisation and routing that mean we might automate all cars as a system, not just each individual car, and in the on-demand fleets of ‘robo-taxis’ that will ride on all of this. The network effects in on-demand are self-evident, but will will get much more complex with autonomy (which will cut the cost of an on-demand ride by three quarters or more). On-demand robo-taxi fleets will dynamically pre-position their cars, and both these and quite possibly all other cars will co-ordinate their routes in real time for maximum efficiency, perhaps across fleets, to avoid, for example, all cars picking the same route at the same time. This in turn could be combined not just with surge pricing but with all sorts of differential road pricing – you might pay more to get to your destination faster in busy times, or pick an arrival time by price.

.. From a technological point of view, these three layers (driving, routing & optimisation, and on-demand) are largely independent – you could install the Lyft app in a GM autonomous car and let the pre-installed Waymo autonomy module drive people around, hypothetically. Clearly, some people hope there will be leverage across layers, or perhaps bundling – Tesla says that it plans to forbid people from using its autonomous cars with any on-demand service other than its own. This doesn’t work the other way – Uber won’t insist you use only its own autonomous systems. But though Microsoft cross-leveraged Office and Windows, both of these won in their own markets with their own network effects: a small OEM insisting you use its small robo-taxi service would be like Apple insisting you buy AppleWorks instead of Microsoft Office in 1995.

..  If you have sold 500,000 AVs and someone else has only sold 10,000, your maps will be updated more often and be more accurate, and so your cars will have less chance of encountering something totally new and unexpected and getting confused. The more cars you sell the better all of your cars are – the definition of a network effect.

.. It could be argued that Tesla has a lead in both maps and driving data: since late 2016, those of its new vehicles whose buyers bought the ‘Autopilot’ add-on have eight cameras giving a near-360 degree field of view, supplemented by a forward-facing radar

.. So, the network effects – the winner-takes-all effects – are in data: in driving data and in maps. This prompts two questions: who gets that data, and how much do you need?


Leslie Jones and Twitters’ Troll Economics

as a private company, Twitter has no legal obligation to let anyone use its service, the activities at issue here—targeted harassment, as well as posting faked tweets—violated the company’s terms of service, and they weren’t speech that any business would feel obliged to protect. If customers in a coffee shop behaved as Jones’s trolls did, they would immediately be booted.

.. The company has reasonable rules in place to prevent such abuse, but it is often justifiably criticized for failing to monitor for violations and enforce its guidelines rigorously and consistently. While Twitter responded quickly to Jones’s concerns, it has not done anywhere near as well in responding to similar reports from non-celebrities. And this very selectivity has led people like Yiannopoulos and his supporters to claim that they’re being punished for their conservative ideology, rather than for their incivility.

.. But if Twitter wants to stick with this approach and grow its business, it needs to recognize that identifying and stopping abusive behavior isn’t optional. Its value depends, in large part, on what economists call network effects: the more people on the network, the more valuable it becomes to users. But trolls can create reverse network effects—the more of them there are, the less valuable the network becomes.

.. That’s why it has long been clear to other media organizations that if fostering robust and healthy discussions in comment threads is part of your business model, then moderation is a must. For a service on the scale of Twitter, the challenge is obviously much greater.