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One of the most significant economic developments of the last decade has been the emergence of the sharing economy, a new category of business in which individuals rent their private property (beds, cars and other underused assets) and spare time to individuals who are more often than not complete strangers. The transactions are generally done on a peer-to-peer basis, often facilitated by mobile phone apps.
A subset of the sharing economy is collaborative consumption, a class of economic arrangements in which participants share access to products or services, rather than having individual ownership.
The sharing economy allows individuals to turn their “dead capital” into valuable commercial assets.
The element of trust is important and many of the sharing economy companies have developed elaborate systems to vet and monitor both the individuals providing access to their personal assets and time and the customers paying for the use of those assets and services.
Much of the work on these systems was pioneered by eBay. In a Wired Magazine article by Jason Tanz, Mr. Tanz noted that in the late nineteenth century businesses developed sophisticated centralized systems of codified safeguards to protect both customers and businesses. Mr. Tanz went on to note that, “But the problem with institutionalized trust is that it can be, in tech industry parlance, a high-friction affair. eBay couldn’t require everyone with a few extra Beanie Babies to go through the regulatory rigmarole of establishing themselves as a licensed shopkeeper. So over several years, Chesnut’s team built its own trust infrastructure. It began monitoring the activity across the eBay marketplace, flagging potentially problematic sellers or buyers, providing its own payment options, and eventually guaranteeing every purchase. In so doing, eBay evolved from a passive host to an active participant in every transaction. Like the explosion of institutional banking and insurance in the early 20th century, this new system acted as a trust proxy; it didn’t require people to trust one another, because they could rely on a centralized system to protect their interests.
Introducing people to one another may encourage them to behave better—it may reduce insurance payouts and help a company’s bottom line. But it also makes for a radically different experience than we’ve come to expect from our service economy. In my conversations with Lyft riders and drivers, practically everyone said some version of the following: “I like dealing with real people.” Of course, the licensed cabbie is a real person. So is the bellhop, the line cook, the kennel owner. But when we interact with them, they are operating as agents of a commercial enterprise. In the sharing economy, the commerce feels almost secondary, an afterthought to the human connection that undergirds the entire experience. (This is due in part to the fact that the payment itself so often happens electronically and invisibly.) In this way, it suggests a return to pre-industrial society, when our relationships and identities—social capital, to use the lingo—mattered just as much as the financial capital we had to spend.
That’s the carrot side of a more intimate economy, the idea that treating people well will result in a better experience. There is a stick side as well: Act badly and you’ll be barred from participating.’
Elements of the sharing economy have been aggressively resisted in certain cities by entrenched legacy interests (particularly in the hotel and taxi industries).The sharing economy is one of the great unforeseen benefits of the digital age. Cities should not ban it but welcome it.
Examples of companies involved in the sharing economy include:
Airbnb, which was recently valued at $10 billion and is the poster child for the sharing economy, allows travelers to rent a room or a whole home from a private individual. Airbnb website: https://www.airbnb.com/
Uber, Lyft and Sidecar have created mobile applications that connect passengers with drivers of private vehicles for hire and ridesharing services. Uber website: https://www.uber.com/ Lyft website: https://www.lyft.com/ Sidecar website: https://www.side.cr/
DogVacay allows dog owners to place their digs with host families in lieu of the dogs being boarded in a kennel. DogVacay website: http://dogvacay.com/
Chegg specializes in online textbook rentals (both in physical and digital formats). Chegg website: chegg.com
TaskRabbit is a marketplace for people to hire people to do jobs and tasks, from delivery, to handyman to office help. Founded in 2008, the site has 4,000 Taskrabbits on the service nationwide who bid to do tasks that are posted by people looking for a service. All the "rabbits" are interviewed and have their backgrounds checked before going on the system. TaskRabbit website: https://www.taskrabbit.com/
Fon operates a system of dual access wireless networks. Members agree to share a part of their bandwidth as a Wi-Fi signal, so that they can connect to other members' hotspots. Consumers who choose not to share their Internet connection can buy Wi-Fi access passes or credit from Fon. Fon members whose hotspots are used to access Wi-Fi by a paying customer can receive part of the revenue. Fon website: https://corp.fon.com/en
Poshmarkallows individuals to list the clothing in their closets for resale. Poshmark website: https://poshmark.com/
Lending Club is the world's largest peer-to-peer lending platform. It was the first peer-to-peer lender to register its offerings as securities with the SEC and to offer loan trading on a secondary market.. As of November 2013, the platform has originated over 3 billion USD in loans, and averages $7.8 million in daily loan originations. Lending Club website: https://www.lendingclub.com/public/personal-loans.action
Feastly is an online marketplace connecting passionate cooks with hungry eaters to offer homemade meals and food experiences prepared and served in a cook’s home, but not limited to – think inventive warehouse spaces, rooftops, store pop-ups and more; we’re indie meals and social dining at its best. Feastly website: https://www.eatfeastly.com/
NeighborGoodsis the leading social platform for peer-to-peer borrowing and lending. Need a ladder? Borrow it from your neighbor. Have a bike collecting dust in your closet? Lend it out and make a new friend. By sharing with your neighbors, you can save money while reducing waste and strengthen your local community in the process. NeighborGoods website: http://neighborgoods.net/
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