The power of the Internet is partly about the unexpected connections that help people share knowledge and build community, often in ways that make services more affordable and environmentally friendly.
In meetings, we’re just scratching the surface of what might be possible online. Not simply to try and replace live meetings with virtual ones, or print publications with conference content websites, but to combine the various options into a result that is greater than the sum of the parts.
But for all the brilliant potential that is taking shape online, it isn’t unusual for one person’s opportunity to present itself as someone else’s threat. When the benefits of online interaction run headlong into the old economy, the reaction isn’t always pretty.
Here in Ottawa, we’ve been hearing a lot about PickUpPal, an Internet-based ride-sharing service with about 100,000 registered users around the world, including 10,000 in Ontario. It bills itself as an opportunity to reduce traffic congestion and greenhouse gas emissions by carpooling. (Disclosure: Our son, Adrian, is the developer and systems administrator behind the service.)
It’s a green approach to ground transportation for a wide variety of public activities, from concerts to special events to conferences.
It’s precisely the kind of innovation we hear about from keynote speakers like Don Tapscott, co-author of Wikinomics, who wowed MPI’s World Education Congress in Montreal last year with tales of the creative, collaborative success stories that are building the interactive Web.
But PickUpPal may not survive the fall season in its home territory of Ontario, Canada. An intercity bus company, Trentway-Wagar, claims the service violates the Ontario Public Vehicles Act, since drivers can collect money by offering strangers a ride.
Under the law, you would be equally guilty if you offered your best friend $5 to cover gas costs to drive your parent home from a medical appointment. The Trentway-Wagar complaint has triggered an online petition and a storm of news coverage, across Canada and beyond.
Many years ago, energy analyst Amory Lovins compared the nuclear industry to a dinosaur with its head cut off: its days were over, he said, but it could be expected to thrash around until the message reached its tail. By its reaction to PickUpPal, Trentway-Wagar is positioning intercity bus services as the latest in dinosaur economics.
Bus companies aren’t going away anytime soon—visit any large conference before the opening reception to find the demand. But there’s no place for predatory practices that choke off great ideas, in transportation services or in meetings.
Whether we run a transportation company, a meeting management firm, or a content capture service, there’s no excuse for just doing the same old thing. It’s unproductive. It’s boring. And anyway, who wants to be accused of practicing dinosaur economics?