I found this particular article about Uber interesting and informative. This article was written by Neil Irwin of the NY Times.
"Most of the headlines about Uber, the rapidly growing transportation service, involve its battles to do business in more cities around the world. Not surprisingly, cabdrivers who have enjoyed being part of tightly regulated cartels in cities like Madrid, Miami, London and Los Angeles do not much care for the San Francisco-based upstart that brings them new competition.
But whether Uber will ultimately become the kind of wildly profitable company that will justify the valuation of $18.2 billion reportedly assigned to it by its latest funding round doesn’t come down to those regulatory battles. If the recent past is a guide, it will eventually win them.
The question for Uber as a business boils down to two words: network effects. That’s the concept in which users of a service benefit from the fact that everybody else uses the service as well. It isn’t much use being the only person to own a fax machine, or the only person to show up at a stock exchange. Things like these become more valuable the more widely they are embraced. Network effects are the key to the wild profitability of a firm like Microsoft; Windows and Office are hard to displace, even if a competitor offers a better, cheaper product, because Microsoft products are entrenched as an industry standard.
And when one company controls a market with strong network effects, it can be one of the few sustainable ways to generate huge profits, holding on to customers and fending off competitors. The billion-dollar question is whether Uber’s model for offering transportation services has some of the same network effects as those of great information industry monopolies (Microsoft, Google), or is more like, say, the travel website business, a brutally competitive industry of middlemen.
Uber is itself a middleman, of course. On one side, it recruits drivers, who typically own or lease their cars. On the other side, it markets to consumers who may want a ride. Then it matches them up; the consumer orders a car, a driver accepts the request, the service is provided, and Uber charges the consumer’s credit card. It keeps a 20 percent commission for itself and pays the rest to the driver..."
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