As has been said before, you know that there’s a profound impact when a company or product comes to define something bigger than itself, such as “googling” for a web search, “Velcro” for all hook-and-loop fasteners, or “hoovering” for operating a vacuum cleaner. Unlike the aforementioned examples, today’s word goes beyond a single product or application. Stemming, surprisingly, from some of the teachings of anarcho-capitalism, today’s word – though it initially was only thought of for basic transportation needs – has the potential to revolutionize many aspects of our economic life.
While the word itself comes from the name of the company who first brought the concept to market, Uber, the term can be broadly defined as transitioning to an economy where excess capacity is utilised for greater convenience and lower costs. Understandably, that’s a little abstract; however, by looking directly at Uber, the basic idea begins to take shape. Officially launching in 2011 in San Francisco, Uber, via their app, simply offers transportation services for a predetermined price that are handled by freelance motorists using their own approved vehicle. In other words, through their platform, Uber is utilizing excess capacity (freelance motorists and their vehicles) to offer greater convenience to people (more and faster travel options) at a lower cost (due to less overhead/business costs).
As Uber became more familiar, people began to see the potential for uberisation in other industries as well. Instead of shopping at individual online stores, websites like eBay and Amazon allow us to see products and services from thousands of vendors. Acquiring start-up capital previously involved a static number of banks/firms and lengthy proposals; however, thanks to companies like GoFundMe and Kickstarter, people can present their ideas directly to an entire marketplace of potential investors. Additionally, thanks to Booking.com and Airbnb, even excess space in your home can be offered for clients: a 2015 report estimates that Airbnb caused a USD 2.1 billion impact in New York City alone.
Considering that, in 2012, an EU Directorate-General report listed a staggering 78% of European translators working as freelancers, the opportunity for uberisation in this field seems very promising. On the other hand, for many who seek not only translation, but the assurance of proofreading and editing, this could potentially add steps and cost to the process.
If the current trend continues, uberisation could affect many services that we encounter in our daily lives; however, the key to its usefulness lies, as it always has, in tailoring it to the needs of the customer.