Carsharing – A mini-auto-ethnography

I have just signed up for three carsharing services in Hamburg: Greenwheels, Cambio, and Flinkster. Here is my experience of the sign up process:


Greenwheels is a subsidiary of the Dutch „Collect Car B.V.“.

There is an online sign up form. It includes a mandatory upload of a scanned driving license as PDF or JPG. Signup nearly succeeded (on first submission it complained that I had not entered my driving license number, despite there not being a form field for that. On resubmitting the same thing it just worked). That was easy.

You then get a mail containing a PDF with your data that you are supposed to sign and mail in (snail mail). You are also supposed to send in a copy of … your driving license.  Uhh, well but haven’t they already got it?

Whatever. Ideally, they said, you go to customer support, and upload a copy through their contact form. So: customer support-> contact form -> attach driver license -> Submit … which …
…leads to a rather blank screen containing the sentence, sending of message failed (or a similarly helpful wording). If you retry, you obtain the same result.

As I had to send them a letter anyway, I just added a paper copy of the driving license. Hopefully, I will receive a card and my paper by mail soon.

This was a rather convenient sign-up with some unnecessary glitches.
Convenience: 8/10 Annoyance: 2/10

UPDATE: I received a card by mail, but before it got activated, I needed to proof my identity. You can either present yourself at some counter in downtown Hamburg for that, or you can identify yourself via video conferencing. I tried that and you go through a website which starts a video call in which you have to hold your driving license in the camera. Video quality was quite bad, so I guess my peer had to guess and trust me, that I actually showed my real driving license :-).


Cambio operates in Germany and Belgium and allegedly is „mostly owned by employees and customers.“ (200 cities, 4,500 cars)

Signup is made through online form, there is no upload of a driver license, but you already have to type in the data online. You then print out an application form containing your data. The application form contains a postal address in the letter header. What now? Snail mail it to that address? Unfortunately, there were no further instructions or hints.

It turns out, you receive a helpful email at the same time explaining you to go to some place in Hamburg („Lilienhof – coworking office, Hinterhaus“), which is fortunately very close to the main station (There is a second address in Hamburg where you could go). You have to hand in your form and driving license personally. The office is somewhat hard to find (please put direction sign in the building!), but once you find it, it will only take 5 minutes to check your stuff and provideyou a welcome package including your customer card (serving as car key). It will be working within 24h, they say, and that you will receive a PIN by e-mail.

The whole process was rather smooth if you don’t mind the fact that you have to actually appear in person to show your driving license.
Convenience: 8/10 Annoyance: 2/10


Flinkster is owned by Deutsche Bahn (200 cities, 1,000 stations, 7,000 cars).

You sign up through online form, with hardly any data being required (no driving license information). That part was Quick and Easy.

You will then receive an email, telling you to go to one of the DB service stations (4 in Hamburg, so not all stations can do that) with two print outs of the form that you just filled in. I decided to search for „DB Information Hamburg Hbf, Südsteg UND Wandelhalle“, which is the usual customer service point where all train passengers go when they missed their trains. If you know German Railways, you can imagine the queue and aggressive atmosphere at the counter. Having queued for 10 minutes it is my turn. „Is this the right place to hand in the form?“ „Err, I think so…“. 20 minutes of typing ensue on the other side of the counter of which 5 minutes are spent looking for the number of my driving license ID. Meanwhile, the queue of angry railway customers builds up behind me, focusing on the remaining functional counter.

After 20 minutes I am told, „you account is enabled. Usually, you would get a customer card now that you can use as car key, but it does not work. The system somehow tells me you only want to use a smartphone app for authenticating. So I cannot give you the card.“
Glad to be away from the counter with the angry mob, I send an email to the flinkster online support to enquire about my status and my key card. I receive the following answer: „Aufgrund vieler Kundenanfragen kann es zu längeren Wartezeiten in der Bearbeitung kommen.“ (approximately meaning „due to many support requests, answers can take a while“). So, I spent 30 minutes at the main station, handed in two print outs of my application form (of which I got one back, with two stamps and the employees signature on it. What am I supposed to do with that? I have the PDF already… THAT I needed to print out two copies for?), and did not receive a customer card for unknow reasons. Blocking the customer counter for that long was no pleasant experience. At least, my account was enabled immediately and I could have booked a car the second I left the counter.

P.S. Deutsche Bahn, please give employees at the service counter at the main station of the self-proclaimed „gate to the world“ at least some BASIC english knowledge. I mean, like really just a little would be nice already…

P.P.S On the plus-side, the flinkster website is the only one supporting the IPv6 protocol :-).

Convenience: 3/10 Annoyance: 8/10

UPDATE: After some time, I received back a mail from the flinkster support, stating that they do’t know what caused the problem. But they posted me my flinkster card by mail, so at least I did not have to go back to the main station. That was actually good customer service!

Impressions from this year’s re:publica

re:publica, a conference focusing on issues related to the digital society, took place from 5-7 May in Berlin. What is unique about the conference is that it brings together people from various backgrounds such as researchers, business people, political activists, journalists and bloggers. The diversity is reflected in the program and I tried to gain a broad overview of all topics covered.
Some of the talks provided food for thought. I attended talks about corporate surveillance in the age of digital tracking, big data and internet of things as well as talks about how activities of intelligence agencies sabotage official foreign policy objectives. Furthermore, whistleblower Annie Machon talked about her experiences as a MI5 intelligence officer and how the „war on concepts“ (i.e. the wars against drugs, terrorism, internet and  whistleblowers) is misused to restrict civic rights.
At the same time also cool stuff is happening: I visited the „Global Innovators“ talk and learned about local hacker, maker and start-up scenes in Singapore, Zimbabwe, Kenya and Brazil. Moreover, I took chance to attend a 3D printing workshop and learned about collaborative knowledge production in the context of „book sprints“ and online collaboration in the context of the German blog, which publishes entries of a war diary exactly 100 years after World War One.

Last, but not least, a major re:publica highlight was the talk of astronaut Alexander Gerst, who enthused the audience with his pictures and anecdotes from his six-month-stay at the International Space Station. The video is now online!

Astronaut Alexander Gerst on Stage
Astronaut Alexander Gerst on Stage

„The Rise and Fall of Interdisciplinary Research“ now also as book

If you have missed our article „The Rise and Fall of Interdisciplinary Research: The Case of Open Source Innovation“ in Research Policy in 2013, I am happy to say that you can read a version of it in the just now published book Open Source Innovation (Routledge). Thanks to Daniel Ehls and Cornelius Herstatt for editing and taking care of everything.

Welcome Sabrina Korreck

We welcome Sabrina Korreck (still with an empty web page) as a new doctoral student to our team. She will be examining User Foresight (how firms make use of Users knowledge for trend recognition/idea generation) as part of a three University project between University of Hamburg (me), Helmut Schmidt University (Hans Koller), and the Technical University of Hamburg (Cornelius Herstatt).
Excitedly looking forward to work with her on that project!

To Own or not to Own

The move from a manufacturing and product-based economy towards a knowledge-based service economy is certainly exciting and interesting.

One obvious change of course is the digitization of products which companies use to switch from the „buy it and own it“ mode to a „license the right to use it“ mode. Even in the non-digital world we observe an increasing trend towards „PaaS“ (Product as a Service). Think car sharing which transforms the need to buy and own a car towards the service of going from A-to-B whenever you need it.

For example, in 2014, publisher Aspen attempted to license a (physical) book to students during the run of a course which they would have to return after the course finished. This would have done away with pesky reselling to others while the costs would have remained the same ($200). (src: (in German))
In this case, Aspen seems to have backed down by continuing to offer a sales option after the move was heavily critizied by the EFF and others.

Technological progress enables thousands of new possibilities, but rather than empowering users, it seems that we are increasingly limiting and controlling them in ways stronger than ever.
We are moving away from a world in which the first sales doctrine enables library loans and resale of owned property to others towards a world where your licensed rights are limited by severe restrictions, where CODE IS LAW.

Restrictions such as: not moving countries, not bequeathing your „property“,  only using specific devices, not being able to print or backup your content, or not being able to consume your content after a few years (at the whim of your vendor). Your „purchased“ media might even disappear, for example because your multi-billion turnover vendor has a bug in its code.

It is surprising how many limitations consumers are willing to accept in return for the convenience to read to watch that media right now.

Good luck Piet Hausberg

My dear friend and colleague Piet Hausberg was employee #1 at the chair of Management and Digital Markets. Since July 2013, he has been performing research as a postdoctoral researcher, coaching students at all levels, being a nice guy and drinking an insubordinate amount of coffee (making me feel less bad in comparison).
However, after barely 1 and a half year, he has already moved on to form a chair of his own at the University of Osnabrück. There he holds the chair of Technology and Innovationmanagement now.
Unfortunately, it is a time-limited assistent professorship and he will still have to make it onto a permanent position. He has all the skills and knowledge, but Fortuna plays her part as well, so I wish him all the best of luck.
We continue to collaborate on reserach topics and occassionally host him in our premises to save him 5 hours of commuting time (on a single day!).

It was fun to have such a great colleague that close, now it will have to suffice to have a great colleague a bit futher away, good luck Piet!

Free WiFi-Access in Hamburg

Maslow’s hierarchy of needs revisited.
Source: pinterest/ransomtech

When it comes to internet access Germany keeps lagging behind, not only in terms of bandwidth, but also in terms of legal responsibilities of hotspot operators (this so-called „Störerhaftung“ has been recently been debated at the German parliament). Apparently there are plans to provide free of charge wifi access in the city of Hamburg (article in German) starting next year. I really appreciate this development. But in „free of charge“-supply usually the charge is only substituted by other commercial interests which makes the offer not free in a broader sense and often times even less attractive from a privacy point of view. For free, unrestricted, non-commercial, anonymous access you can however rely more and more on a grassroots initiative called „Freifunk“ that we already support and which is growing fast.

vhb-TIE conference

Piet Hausberg presenting at IAS-TUM, Munich, during the vhb-TIE-conference
Piet Hausberg presenting at IAS-TUM, Munich,
during the vhb-TIE-conference

Last month we presented our research on innovation diffusion at the annual meeting of the Technology, Innovation, and Entrepreneurship (TIE) section of the vhb. This year this event was hosted brilliantly by Joachim Henkel, Christina Raasch, and Tim Schweisfurth at the Technical University Munich (TUM). We enjoyed meeting old friends and colleagues and make new acquaintances and exchanging ideas and thoughts on innovation and its management. Very interesting keynote speeches came inter alia from Carliss Baldwin (Harvard), who was awarded an honorary degree by TUM, Ben Martin (SPRU), and Dietmar Harhoff (MPI Munich). We are already looking forward to next year’s meeting!​