Here is part two of our conversation with Rachel Botsman, widely credited as one of the leading thinkers in the sharing economy. Her recent Fast Company article, “Defining The Sharing Economy: What Is Collaborative Consumption—And What Isn’t,” notes the companies building the sharing economy are defining the core values inherent in emergent industry silos, and we were curious to find out more:
brandchannel: The “sharing economy” is a term that’s bandied about, and there’s certainly some confusion with collaborative consumption and brands’ on-demand services. How is Airbnb different from Pizza Hut’s delivery tests, for example?
Rachel Botsman: Pizza Hut, Amazon one-hour delivery and Uber allow people to instantly access things on demand with a tap of an app. They’re thrown under the same umbrella as part of the sea change in consumer behavior that uses the smartphone as a remote control to efficiently access things in the real world. The Uberfication of everything brings with it confusion about what is true sharing.
bc: How has the Uberfication of everything muddied matters?
RB: As I said in my Fast Company article, “The experience of using geolocation and frictionless payments to change our ability to get a taxi is creating a transformation in terms of how we expect and want to access everything from getting a parcel shipped on Shyp to a dog walked on Wag, with a tap of a screen.”
bc: How would you like to see this evolve, and a new generation of sharing economists emerge?
RB: I hope the new generation of sharing economists applies the thinking to big problems in the world. How could this change access to underutilized resources in developing nations? How could cities be designed differently based on shared transportation infrastructure? What would happen if we applied the core principles to healthcare? How could it transform how different income classes access goods and services? It is critical this does not become a trend that merely exacerbates the differences between the “haves” and the “haves not.”
I do not have an issue with the companies becoming commercially successful but I fear that the wealth will only benefit the few. I think it will be interesting to see how sharing economists start to think of ways to redistribute value to providers on the platforms and develop 21st century cooperative structures that work for the digital age.
bc: Where do you see the opportunities and needs in this space?
RB: The biggest need in the space right now is to navigate through the issue of workers. It’s not as simple as deciding whether the drivers on Uber or runners on Taskrabbit are employees or independent contractors. What is needed is a reimagination of the relationship between a rising generation of micro-entrepreneurs and the platforms they are working on.
bc: And what will that look like?
RB: The sharing economy is just a green shoot in a complete redefinition of what the future of jobs will look like. If we try to push this type of work into traditional definitions, we are pushing against a rising tide of how many people want to work. In short, I hope future generations of sharing economists ensure the space remains about empowerment, not exploitation.
Below, how Rachel defines different terms exemplified by brands in the sharing economy space —
Collaborative economy: An economic system of decentralized networks and marketplaces that unlocks the value of underused assets by matching needs and haves, in ways that bypass traditional middlemen.
Sharing economy: An economic system based on sharing underused assets or services, for free or for a fee, directly from individuals.
Collaborative consumption: The reinvention of traditional market behaviors—renting, lending, swapping, sharing, bartering, gifting—through technology, taking place in ways and on a scale not possible before the internet.
On-demand services: Platforms that directly match customer needs with providers to immediately deliver goods and services.