- Local Uber riders. (Photo: Uber)
When the D.C. Taxicab Commission threatened Uber's legality last week, the luxury car service struck back hard — but by tapping its fans online and not by talking with the Commission. The service itself is simple enough. You request a car on your smartphone, and pay $15 minimum for what's essentially a classy, tech-savvy cab ride. I wrote about the service's many defenders last Friday, a mix of socialites, transportation enthusiasts, and libertarians who feared our local law stifled innovation.
The defense of Uber spread across many platforms. Twitter users loudly proclaimed themselves with the hashtag #UberDCLove. Uber formed a Facebook group called UberLove (Facebook URL: "saveuber"), taken advantage of an official Uber D.C. Tumblr account to post photos of Uber fans holding up signs with phrases like "Commissioner Linton doesn't care about the people of D.C. #UberDClove" and "Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of UBERness," and kept followers informed on its company blog. All of these are wonderful, flashy ways to reach people, consistent with the methods many companies today use to build loyalty and love among their customers.
But I noticed a stranger social media effort of Uber's today, a nationally focused one that I haven't seen people mention much here, but that, if Uber remains in D.C., will likely be talked about all the more. Have you checked out Uber's shadow Tumblr "Ubers from Last Night"?
"Ubers from Last Night" is a collection of photos from people all over the world, featured on an Uber Tumblr blog that has a question mark of a profile picture and a dark city background. "All photos are submitted by Uber clients," the Tumblr profile announces. "To submit your own, tap My Trip then tap Share Your Picture while on your next Uber ride." Uber has allowed its riders to take grainy backseat photos of themselves for months now. Here's the slowly growing list of local Ubers from Last Night photos, and here's a selection of the photos from everywhere. The number of D.C. Uber photos will likely grow in time, if Uber keeps this feature. Other cities have used it for awhile, and Uber has encouraged riders to take these pictures.
"Hey New Yorkers," Uber wrote to our neighbors in the north back in November, "we need more Ubers from last night photos. San Francisco and Chicago are killing us in the photo department. Are we really going to let that happen? ... Photo contests coming soon. We want to see some mustaches from Movember and Santas from Santa Con in an Uber."
The name seems to be a riff off of Lauren Leto's "Texts from Last Night" blog, which captures the drunken, party-spirited messages that people send to one another. Uber apparently wants to offer that same voyeuristic thrill in letting people photograph themselves.
The feature seems less aimed at business folks so much as the younger, socialite contingent of Uber riders. What Uber sells is style, and to let people photograph themselves is a simple feature but an appealing one for those who want to get to a bar or a club with fancy transportation. The ride is status, which people love to show off. At $15 minimum a ride in D.C., Uber is not exactly affordable regular travel for those not in the city's power-class — fortunately for Uber, the nation's capital does contain many with the money, heft, and desire to want and pay for luxury transportation. Most of the photos are unimpressive and don't tell us too much. We see a youngish white man awkwardly not smiling as he focuses on the camera; we see a close-up of yet another white man's face with a glimpse out a foggy window; and then yet another with distinguished glasses, fluffy hair, and a blue jacket, this one ready to grin. In December, a D.C. man and woman rode Uber and took photos of just their eyeballs. It's a fun, uncomplicated offering that has potential to make the ride more fun for a select group of passengers. We do learn that Uber offers its own Vitamin water in the backseat though. There's one photo of the bottle, emblazoned with the line: "Uber makes your night more awesome."
At least "Ubers from Last Night" is different. Not enough local transportation groups have taken advantage of blogging platforms like Tumblr, and as initially creepy as the name and concept sounds, Uber's effort here strikes me as worthwhile. After all, why not? As all our taxicabs integrate more technology, they should make rides more fun as well as more convenient. Uber's very appeal rests in part on its technology and part on its fashion. To tap riders' vanity and create a Tumblr photo blog seems a logical enough next step.