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How to Put "Sharing" Back into the Sharing Economy


Is the “Sharing Economy” an oxymoron? Some argue that Airbnb, for instance, is not part of this economy because there is no sharing involved. Homeowners act as business owners do, charging vacationers rent. The underlying ethos seems to contradict the system, or are we only seeing one side?


Customers are happy to comply because of the convenience of these on demand services. In this article I would like to explore some known and lesser known terms of the sharing economy. From coops to coworking spaces, a myriad of alternative sharing systems exist all over the world. It seems that two different models are playing against each other, or maybe there can be overlap.


Sharing Economy


This is the first and most obvious term but it is is worth reexamining for the sake of this article. The sharing economy is more than people sharing or bartering goods, it is an economic model which runs on free people doing business. Thanks to the Internet and advanced communications technology, this model has grown tremendously in the past decade.   


Collaborative Consumption


Made famous by sharing economy advocate and researcher, Rachel Botsman (@rachelbotsman), collaborative consumption is the act of buying, swapping, lending and bartering goods. This has given way to what is now known as peer-to-peer. It is the shared use of a product or service by a group, as opposed to buying from an individual or company. This model is made possible through aspects such as trust, online reputations and community.


Peer-to-peer Marketplace


Renting, buying or selling from one individual to another. An economic model that gets rid of the “middleman” by offering transactions directly to consumers.


Now that we have a better grasp of what these terms mean, let’s look at the lesser known side. One person who knows a lot about this is Neil Gorenflo (@gorenflo), founder of Shareable, “Building a people powered economy right under everyone’s noses.”


Whereas Airbnb is focused on the bottom line, collaborative communities are popping up all over the country and focuses on access over ownership. Let’s look at some of these terms and see if they are better matches for the “Sharing Economy” story.


Collaborative Communities


I hate putting labels on anything but if I were to give this economy a name this would be it. A good example is Intel. Recently, the company famous for building computers launched Developer Mesh, a network of engineers and other IT specialists. This is a real community in the sense that people can share their knowledge and find people to collaborate with.




A business where workers are co-owners. In a traditional business there is a boss and employees. Since coops are run by their workers, employees feel involved at every level of decision-making and feel validated through profit-sharing.


Coworking spaces


Mostly nonprofit spaces for people to work on individual or group projects. Popping up all over the world, they have become popular due an increase in freelancers. A lot of people who work remotely prefer to work alongside others even if they are not collaborating. Helps people feel like they are part of community and find opportunities for networking.


Participatory Budgeting


What if you could decide where your taxes went? Participatory budgeting allocates taxes to projects decided upon by the community. This is using taxes in a crowdfunding way. It  encourages greater civic engagement and gives people a sense that their voices and money funds projects that mean something to them.


Collaborative communities will not replace the multi-billion dollar marketplaces like Airbnb or Uber. What they can do is offer alternative forms of consumption that benefits communities, the environment and society as a whole. Why not look at the best the sharing economy has to offer and take it from there?  


Topics: Sharing Economy


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