The sharing economy is one of the fastest growing sectors of this decade. Work-sharing platforms like Expert360, accommodation-sharing platforms like Airbnb and ride-sharing platforms like Uber have been experiencing exponential growth by disrupting traditional businesses. These businesses all had their fair share of healthy competition, yet Uber might be about to face it's biggest challenge yet. You might have heard of this competitor. In a patent published today (January 28th in the US), Facebook outlined a system which allows users to set up carpools for people attending the same event. The software would allow Facebook users who are already attending the same event to select the mode of transport that they are using and set up a way of getting to the event with others. For Facebook's 500 million 'Events' users who created 123 million events in 2015, this technology could revolutionise their transportation methods.
On face value, this new tool could mean something as simple as allowing users to meet up to catch the bus together or facilitating carpooling between friends. The patent application indicates that Facebook will map out a route to pick up passengers on the way to an event and outlines the most efficient way to pick these people up.
The patent application also indicates that users might be informed of their friends' music preferences and political affiliations before picking them up. Evidently, Facebook's ride-sharing platform is attempting to cut out any awkwardness between users and ensure that you don't crack any jokes about Tony Abbott before knowing each other's political affiliations.
While the patent application may initially seem like an innocuous attempt of Facebook trying to improve their users' experience, the potential benefits for Facebook are incredible. In the short term, the software could simply be a method for Facebook to more easily integrate itself with Uber. In December, Facebook introduced the ability to order an Uber through their Messenger app, indicating their first foray into the world of ride-sharing.
They have since indicated that they will also have an integration with San Francisco based startup Lyft. On 27th January, in a somewhat more menacing (for Uber, at least) statement, Mark Zuckerberg described the Messenger integration with Uber as the beginning of a "transportation platform" test. It is highly possible that the patenting of this technology could indicate Facebook's intentions to build their own system of ride-sharing technology. With their huge user base as well as the ability to track user locations, preferences and the events they are attending, it is clear that Facebook would have the data to make a very impressive and potentially game-changing, ride-sharing product.