I really enjoyed Lane Rettig's post entitled Principals and Agents. In the post he talks about why he doesn't post reviews on centralized corporate platforms like Uber, Amazon and Airbnb. He lists three general reasons: 1) he isn't an owner so value doesn't accrue to him and he has little agency 2) they aren't open source (which again boils down to someone else owning the platform) and 3) he sees writing reviews as doing "work" for the company as an agent. He goes on to draw conclusions about the relationship between the reasons he doesn't post reviews and his career decisions to be either a founder (owner) or a contractor instead of an employee.

I found myself reading along and shaking my head in a agreement with a lot of the points he made.

I’m willing to invest a great deal in myself, my home, and my family because they’re mine and they’re always going to be mine—I’m stuck with them! I’m willing to invest a bit in my local community because I feel some degree of ownership and agency, but less than I do at home. This relationship continues outwards in ever more distant concentric circles, so to speak: I feel less agency in my city than I do in my local community, even less in my state, very little in my country, and hardly any at all at the global level. (Incidentally this is one reason I think large nation states are inherently ungovernable, but that’s a topic for another week.)

This paragraph on family vs community vs state vs country really resonated with me in that I feel the same way and am on the same page. (And also have views on why large nation-states aren't great!)

I've also generally gone down the same road as Lane in my career as either founder/co-founder/early team member or contractor. Most of my work is in open source and I use it every day. I'm also a strong believer in incentives.

But somehow, I have different conclusions about posting reviews on corporate platforms compared to Lane.

While I don't post reviews on Amazon, I do post reviews on Uber, Grab, Airbnb and even sometimes a shopping site like HKTVmall.

I find Uber (and many other centralized platforms) very responsive...to feedback...often shockingly so. While Lane seems to look at posting reviews as doing free work for a platform you're already paying, I look at it in a totally different, selfish way. I see posting a review as something that I benefit from. I get a lot of value from reading Airbnb reviews so always post an honest one that I hope someone else will find useful and that the service provider will fix anything I had a problem with and/or keep doing the things I like. As long as I keep using the system, I'll get to take advantage of this in the aggregate.

Now, you may be thinking, this is irrational because for every dollar of time you spend posting a review, you might only get some fraction of a cent of value. And you'd be right looking at the problem solely from a utilitarian perspective of money changing hands. But there's so much more than that...when I post a positive review for a service provider that did right by me, I am helping them and that gives me a warm fuzzy feeling one gets when showing gratitude. And that feeling is very selfishly good for me...both for my mental and physical health. It makes me feel like I'm living in a great world and I'm always winning.

When I post a negative review, I'm helping a future fellow human avoid a negative experience I had to endure...which again makes me feel good and happy. I've also found that platforms are very responsive to negative reviews and proactively reach out to resolve whatever problem...usually via a refund...even if I don't expect it! (Uber consistently does this...in Hong Kong. HKTVmall as well!)

A physical world example of this behavior is this: where I live in Asia, generally people don't bus their own trays in McDonald's, food courts or similar cafeteria-style establishments...someone is paid to do this. This results in the problem where as a customer, you sometimes find that there are tables with no people but aren't really usable because they are still covered with trash from the previous diner. No one really wants to clear up someone else's trash.

My approach is to always bus my own table so that people looking for a seat have a clean empty table...despite the culture saying that I should not bus my table. Much of the time, the (overworked) person responsible for cleaning the tables is very happy that I've helped out lighten some of their workload and I get a big smile and thank you. Often, people who were stressed out looking for an empty table will be relieved and grateful to have my clean table. The "worst" case scenario is that I clean my table, nobody notices but I still imagine how someone in the future will be happy to use this clean table. It's a win-win-win-win-win scenario for everyone involved.

Does some big faceless corporation benefit from me? Probably...but who cares? Life isn't a competition to ensure that we capture 110% of the value of our actions and that people who aren't paying us get nothing. (I'm not suggesting this is Lane's point of view!)

I'm a big fan of acting like you live in the world you want to live in. And I want to live in a world where everyone is nice, helpful and looking out for each other. And I've found when you live life like that, the world bends to your expectations.