The Case for a Decentralized Uber Service

I’ve been doing research on peer-to-peer (P2P) networks since 2003, when I was pursuing my childhood fascinations of becoming a game developer and wanted to build the next generation million-scale virtual worlds.

That work became the VAST P2P network protocol and library, and I’ve since gone on to become an entrepreneur wanting to create positive impacts to the world with technologies and products.

While I’ve been away from academia for a while, the exploration of curiosity that could lead to a passionate purpose still holds a dear spot in my mind.

So I took on a part-time position advising graduate students a few years ago related to my previous research on P2P-based virtual world at Stellenbosch University in South Africa for a professor friend.

Though just an advisory role on research work, actual society impact is still something on my mind, as I’ve always been interested in the intersection between academia and social entrepreneurship.

As we have been exploring the concept of “spatial publish/subscribe” (SPS), we were also looking for ways it could be applied to help society to become better.

Publish/subscribe (pub/sub) is a basic computing paradigm where “publishers” send messages to “subscribers” without knowing each other. Twitter and Internet Relay Chat (IRC) are famous examples.

When taking the concept for spatial domains (hence, “spatial” publish/subscribe), we simply send messages to a well-defined space, and allowed “spatial subscribers” to receive the published message.

This allows applications from virtual worlds to Location-based Services (LBSs) be built fairly easily, potentially with just a few simple API calls.

However, what might be a good use case for Spatial Publish/Subscribe? Particularly a decentralized, peer-to-peer one?

It turned out we’ve seen it in use almost on a daily basis for many people in developed countries: the ubiquitous Uber!

Uber has created much value for people in need for a ride, or for food. However, it’s a centralized, private infrastructure that only the Uber company can fully utilize.

But just imagine there’s a public, freely available infrastructure much like the Internet, where anybody with an idea can build a new delivery service, with different service levels, and for different price points and needs (think: fresh local fruits delivery, or delivery for the elders).

Wouldn’t that be a better world?

See this article for more details on the potential architecture.

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