“Amidst a thousand tirades against the excesses and waste of consumer society, What’s Mine Is Yours offers us something genuinely new and invigorating: a way out.” —Steven Johnson, author of The Invention of Air and The Ghost Map
A groundbreaking and original book, What’s Mine is Yours articulates for the first time the roots of "collaborative consumption," Rachel Botsman and Roo Roger's timely new coinage for the technology-based peer communities that are transforming the traditional landscape of business, consumerism, and the way we live. Readers captivated by Chris Anderson’s The Long Tail, Van Jones’ The Green Collar Economy or Malcolm Gladwell’s The Tipping Point will be wowed by this landmark contribution to the evolving ecology of commerce and sustainability.
“Part cultural critique and part practical guide to the fledgling collaborative consumption market, the book provides a wealth of information for consumers looking to redefine their relationships with both the things they use and the communities they live in.” — —Publishers Weekly
“Collaborative consumption is an ideal signalling device for an economy based on electronic brands and ever-changing fashions.” — —The Economist
“This is an inspiring book about innovating entrepreneurs in an economy where people are seeking ways to connect with each other- through business.” — —Delta Sky
“The latest buzzword and trend is defining how we do business in the new millennium” — —Vogue Australia
“[T]he authors have laid out the social and economic logic for collaborative consumption with such religious fervour and zeal that one can’t help but become converted to this new world order.” — —Edwards Magazine Bookclub
“The authors give hundreds of examples of how people are finding new ways to share and exchange value…[T]he book is packed with some pretty interesting statistics…If you’re unaware of what’s happening in the peer-to-peer exchange space, this book will quickly bring you up to speed.” — —Emergent by Design
“What can the next wave of collaborative marketplaces look like? Botsman and Rogers answer this question in a highly readable and persuasive way. Anyone interested in the business opportunities and social power of collaboration should consider reading this book.” — —Tony Hsieh, author of Delivering Happiness and CEO of Zappos.com, Inc.
“People are normally trustworthy and generous, and the Internet brings the good out far more than the bad. We’re seeing an explosion of modest businesses where people help each other out via the Net, and What’s Mine is Yours tells you what’s going on, and inspires more of the same.” — —Craig Newmark, founder of craigslist
“Rachel Botsman and Roo Rogers have offered a convincing, charming and in every sense collaborative account of how the new networks that have disrupted our lives are also likely to alter them, and entirely for our good.” — —Adam Gopnik, author of Paris to the Moon and Through the Children's Gate
“Amidst a thousand tirades against the excesses and waste of consumer society, What’s Mine Is Yours offers us something genuinely new and invigorating: a way out. Anyone interested in the emerging economics and culture of collaboration will want to read this profoundly hopeful book.” — —Steven Johnson, author of The Invention of Air and The Ghost Map
“[F]ull of impressive examples of entrepreneurs establishing new markets. Ultimately, the authors’ optimism is infectious.” — —The Australian
1. A Backlash Against Sharing?
Lately, the so-called “sharing economy” has been all over the news. Under flashy headlines such as “Sharing is the New Owning” it is heralded as the solution to the current financial crisis, the path toward a more sustainable economy or even the harbinger of a post-capitalist society. And while the “sharing economy” is supposed to be all these wonderful things at once, it also generates such disruptive and fantastically profitable businesses like AirBnB, Uber or TaskRabbit. No wonder then, that policy makers are getting increasingly excited about this ‘force for good’. Just a few weeks ago, the British government announced its intention to “make the UK the global centre for the sharing economy.” As Business and Enterprise minister Matthew Hancock rejoiced: “By backing the sharing economy… we’re making sure that Britain is at the forefront of progress and by future proofing our economy we’re helping to protect the next generation.”
Yet, while policy makers and their advisers can hardly contain their enthusiasm, over the course of the last few months there has been a veritable surge of critical comments on the “sharing economy.” Mainstream media as well as the blogosphere are brimming with furious articles, warning us to not buy into the “sharing hype” or even attacking the supposed “sharing lie.” The American business magazine Forbes even talks about a “backlash against the sharing economy.”
After years of almost unequivocal enthusiasm for the innovative wonders of the “sharing economy,” a real debate finally seems to be emerging. In this short essay, I am going to follow this debate while trying to find an answer to the question of what the “sharing economy” in fact is.
2. To Share or Not to Share
Not unlike other contemporary policy fashions such as the creative industries or social innovation, the “sharing economy” throws together a variety of diverse and often unrelated phenomena; from massively funded technology start-ups like Uber and AirBnB to fair trade cooperatives, borrowing shops and hippie communes. It would be wrong, however, to understand this confusion as a result of the intellectual incompetence on the side of trend watchers and innovation consultants. While it is true that the growing army of these professional would-be clairvoyants depends on the regular construction of the “next big thing” for their own economic survival – the vaguer, the better – the confusion that comes with the “sharing economy” is the intended result of a smart marketing strategy. But I am getting ahead of myself…
The first thing we need to understand about the “sharing economy” is that it has absolutely nothing to do with sharing in the sense you and I might think about it. The essence of sharing – if it has any meaning at all – is of course that it does not involve the exchange of money. Sharing only happens in the absence of market transactions. With regard to the poster boys and girls of the “sharing economy,” the very opposite is the case. These are digital platforms that roughly do two things: either making the old practice of re- and multi-using durable goods more efficient or expanding market exchange into economically uncharted territory of society.
If we look at internet marketplaces such as Ebay, Etsy and their many variations, it is clear that what they offer are digitally modernized versions of the good old second hand shop. What’s new about them is that thanks to the internet, the supply of used goods (and in the case of Etsy, also handicraft) finds its demand much more effectively and efficiently than ever before. There can be no doubt that his leads to a more efficient (re-)use of durable goods, thus contributing to a more sustainable allocation of resources. The same applies to rentals, particularly cars or bikes but also to lots of other goods. Thanks to the internet and mobile digital technology, the centralized stockpiling of goods to be rented has become unnecessary which, again, saves resources. Their dispersion is not a problem any more but often rather adds to the convenience of the rental process – think of a car that you can pick up around the corner rather than having to travel to the nearest agent. However, none of this has anything to do with sharing! Matthew Yglesias, writing for the US business blog Slate.com, illustrates this fact as follows:
“My neighbor and I share a snow shovel because we share some stairs that need to be shovelled when it snows and we share responsibility for doing the work. If I owned the stairs and charged him a small fee every time he walked in or out of the house, that would be the opposite of sharing.”
This might sound trivial but given the confused usage of the notion of sharing, it seems appropriate to remind ourselves that helping each other out by sharing our resources is one thing while commodifying these resources by charging a fee for their use is quite another. And this gets us to the more innovative dimension of the “sharing economy.” Today, the “sharing economy” entails much more than just digital updates of second-hand exchange and rentals. What companies like Uber, AirBnB, TaskRabbit or Postmates have in common is that they are platforms coordinating supply and demand of products and services that in their present form were previously unavailable on the market. Uber is a platform where people looking for a cab quickly find their non-, semi-, and real professional taxi driver. AirBnB allows people to sublet their houses, TaskRabbit connects supply and demand for chores, Postmates for deliveries, Instacart for grocery shopping. While it might be convenient to make use of these services, they have absolutely nothing to do with sharing. They stand for a digitally enabled expansion of the market economy, which, again, is the opposite of sharing. If someone does my shopping or drops me at the airport in exchange for a financial fee, how is this sharing? This situation doesn’t change if instead of money, one receives credits to be used at the issuing platform (a mistake that for the last few years has led to a rather annoying hype around “alternative currencies” based on the belief that the ‘evils’ of capitalism could be cured by replacing real money by a less efficient substitute).
3. Enter Platform Capitalism
In an attempt to overcome this confusion, Sascha Lobo, a German technology blogger for Der Spiegel, has recently suggested to drop the obscure notion of “sharing” altogether. “What is called sharing economy,” he argues, “is merely one aspect of a more general development, i.e., a new quality of the the digital economy: platform capitalism.” As Lobo emphasizes, platforms like Uber and AirBnB are more than just internet marketplaces. While marketplaces connect supply and demand between customers and companies, digital platforms connect customers to whatever. The platform is a generic ‘ecosystem’ able to link potential customers to anything and anyone, from private individuals to multinational corporations. Everyone can become a supplier for all sorts of products and services at the click of a button. This is the real innovation that companies of the platform capitalism variety have introduced. Again, this is miles away from sharing but instead represents an interesting mutation of the economic system due to the application of digital technology.
It should be clear that understanding the “sharing economy” in terms of platform capitalism is by no means a matter of linguistic nitpicking. Calling this crucial development by its proper name is an important step towards a more sober assessment of the claims made by the proponents of “sharing.” Take, for instance, the notion that everyone benefits from the disruptive force of the “sharing economy” because it cuts out the middleman. Sharing models, the argument goes, facilitate a more direct exchange between economic agents, thus eliminating the inefficient middle layers and making market exchange simpler and fairer. While it is absolutely true that internet marketplaces and digital platforms can reduce transaction costs, the claim that they cut out the middleman is pure fantasy. As one blogger puts it: “Sure, many of the old middlemen and retailers disappear but only to be replaced by much more powerful gatekeepers.”
In fact, the argument is quite an obscene one, particularly if it is made by the stakeholders of platform capitalism themselves. As globally operating digital platforms, these companies have the unique ability to cut across many regional markets and reconfigure traditionally specific markets for goods and services as generic customer-to-whatever ‘ecosystems’. It seems fairly obvious that the entire purpose of the platform business model is to reach a monopoly position, as this enables the respective platform to set and control the (considerably lower) standards upon which someone (preferably anyone) could become a supplier in the respective market. Instead of cutting out the middleman, digital platforms have the inherent tendency to become veritable Über-middlemen, i.e., monopolies with an unprecedented control over the markets they themselves create. In fact, calling these customer-to-whatever ecosystems “markets” often turns out to be a bit of a joke. For the clients of Uber & Co., price is not the result of the free play of supply and demand but of specific algorithms supposedly simulating the market mechanism. The effect of such algorithmic tampering with the market is demonstrated for instance by Uber’s surge pricing during periods of peak demand. It is not very difficult to see where this might be leading. Taking a cab to the hospital in, say, New York City during a snow storm might become unaffordable for some under conditions of mature platform capitalism. For those who believe this to be overly pessimistic and a bit of an exaggeration, just ask your local taxi driver what percentage of her work is already coming from one of the digital platforms.
4. Disruption and Regulation
This is not meant as an excuse to engage in the increasingly popular pastime of algorithm bashing. There is neither an algorithmic conspiracy here, nor are these companies selling out the ‘true spirit of the sharing economy’. They simply follow the logic of platform capitalism which at the moment is the logic of a digital gold rush, unhampered by any kind of government regulation. In a way, what we are seeing here is social innovation in its purest form, i.e., the creation of something that from a business perspective is even better than the so-called “blue ocean” (a competition-free market). And it is causing the famous disruption – so much so that cities like Amsterdam are raising the white flag as entire streets are turning into exclusive AirBnB zones. It should be clear that this doesn’t help an already overstrained housing market, let alone the local population’s quality of life. While taxi drivers’ protests against Uber and Lyft have been be laughed away as collateral innovation damage, the transformation of our cities into tax-free, urban versions of “Center Parcs” might be more difficult to stomach.
At the moment, platform capitalism is allowed to run wild because it is simply running too fast for politicians and regulators. Nothing expresses the political impotence in the face of this new kind of digital capitalism better than the painfully ignorant techno-gibberish frequently emitted by Neelie Kroes, outgoing EU-Commissioner for Digital Development. There are, however, also signs of a turning tide such as the recent exchange between Goolge’s Eric Schmidt and the German Minister of Economic Affairs, Sigmar Gabriel in which the latter responded to the former’s assertion that “all we do is follow the law” by saying: “I understand this as a request for regulation.” The question is, of course, whether this will to regulate is going to persist against the enormous lobbying power of platform capitalism.
Regulation is important not only in order to prevent monopolies, fund the state and keep our cities liveable for their actual inhabitants but also to insure fair treatment of those we haven’t considered yet: the suppliers and vendors who sell their products and services on the digital platforms. If we are to believe the proponents of the “sharing economy,” then the opportunities are pretty amazing. As Brian Chesky, CEO and co-founder of Airbnb, puts it in Wall Street Journal:
“I want to live in a world where people can become entrepreneurs or micro-entrepreneurs and if we can lower the friction and inspire them to do that, especially in an economy like today, this is the promise of the sharing economy.”
According to Chesky, digital platforms are simply a reflection of our contemporary entrepreneurial lifestyle and anyway, they provide people with an extra opportunity for income in these times of economic crisis. Similarly, New York Magazine sees the “sharing economy” as an answer to our current economic predicament as well but is slightly less euphoric as to the potency of the sharing antidote:
“Tools that help people trust in the kindness of strangers might be the thing pushing hesitant sharing-economy participants over the threshold to adoption. But what’s getting them to the threshold in the first place is a damaged economy, and harmful public policy that has forced millions of people to look to odd jobs for sustenance.”
So which one is it then: inspired micro-entrepreneurs or odd jobs for sustenance?
5. Revolutionizing the World’s Labour Force
At the moment, it is still difficult to reach a fair conclusion on this question as the reports from the field are only starting to come in. Their is a fairly clear tendency though. Business magazine Fast Company, a publication known for its enthusiasm for everything innovative and digital, sent one of its writers for one month into the “sharing economy” to test the waters of entrepreneurial inspiration. The conclusion of her very interesting and extensive report is rather devastating:
“For one month, I became the “micro-entrepreneur” touted by companies like TaskRabbit, Postmates, and Airbnb. Instead of the labor revolution I had been promised, all I found was hard work, low pay, and a system that puts workers at a disadvantage.”
In fact, Sarah Kessler (that’s the name of the writer turned sharing Guinea pig) never made enough to get by at all despite being young, flexible and urban, i.e., part of the social cohort that is supposed to fare particularly well in the “sharing economy.” Similar concerns have been raised by the New York Times’ rather comprehensive journalistic analysis of the phenomenon. Yes, there is freedom to be found in platform capitalism but it is the precarious freedom of what the newspaper calls the “gig economy:”
“Many gigs may seem to offer decent pay. But they may not look that great after factoring in the time spent, expenses, insurance costs and taxes on self-employment earnings. ‘If you did the calculations, many of these people would be earning less than minimum wage,’ says Dean Baker, an economist who is the co-director of the Center for Economic and Policy Research in Washington. ‘You are getting people to self-exploit in ways we have regulations in place to prevent.’”
If one adds protesting Uber drivers and the fact that on top of miserable pay and lack of safety net one also misses the the social (!) aspect of sharing one’s work experience with coworkers, there isn’t really much awesomeness left for the sharing micro-entrepreneur. TaskRabbit’s CEO Leah Busque once said that the goal of her company was to “revolutionize the world’s labor force.” Unfortunately, it looks as though Mrs. Busque and her investors could accomplish what they set out to do. One might not agree with CUNY Professor Stanley Aronowitz, who refers to the ‘gigs’ offered the by “sharing economy” as “wage slavery in which all the cards are held, mediated by technology, by the employer, whether it is the intermediary company or the customer.” What does become increasingly obvious, though, is that platform capitalism is mounting an attack on the achievements of the labour movement – which for very good reasons we consider to be a pillar of modern, democratic civilization – and a very effective one at that. And here again, it is not that the “sharing economy” has gone off the the rails, it is simply the logic of platform capitalism. As Sacha Lobo puts it succinctly:
“By controlling their ecosystems, platforms create a stage on which every economic transaction can be turned into an auction. Nothing minimizes cost better than an auction – including the cost of labour. That’s why labour is the crucial societal aspect of platform capitalism. It is exactly here that we will have to decide whether to harness the enormous advantages of platform capitalism and the sharing economy or to create a ‘dumping market’ where the exploited amateurs only have the function to push professional prices down.”
I agree. The basis for such a decision needs to be a proper understanding of the reality of platform capitalism. The anger we have seen over the last few months directed against the “sharing economy” has a lot to do with the utterly unsubstantial claims and stories that are constantly churned out by the marketing machine of platform capitalism. Take John Zimmer, co-founder of Lyft, who told Wired earlier this year that the sharing economy bestows on us the gift of a revived community spirit. Referring to his visit to the Oglala Sioux reservation, he writes: “Their sense of community, of connection to each other and to their land, made me feel more happy and alive than I’ve ever felt. We now have the opportunity to use technology to help us get there.” No question, the pompous impertinence of this comparison is truly breathtaking. And yet, neither is this kind of rhetorical gymnastics the exception in the sharing-scene nor does it come unmotivated. Noam Scheiber of the New Republic explains the rationale behind the obscenities of Zimmer (and his kind) with great lucidity:
“For-profit “sharing” represents by far the fastest-growing source of un- and under-regulated commercial activity in the country. Calling it the modern equivalent of an ancient tribal custom is a rather ingenious rationale for keeping it that way. After all, if you’re a regulator, it’s easy to crack down on the commercial use of improperly zoned and insured property. But what kind of knuckle-dragger would crack down on making friends?”
6. The Sharing Economy: A Dumb Term that Deserves to Die!
The truth of the matter, though, as Nathan Schneider writes on Al-Jazeera America, is that “the sharing sector of the conventional economy built on venture capital and exploited labor is a multibillion dollar business, while the idea of a real sharing economy based on cooperatives, worker solidarity and democratic governance remains too much of an afterthought. If the sharing movement really wants to disrupt economic injustice, these should be its first priorities.”
I hope that it has become clear over the course of this little essay that it is in no way the intention of the “sharing economy” to “disrupt economic injustice.” The “sharing economy” does not exist. Or, in the words of the business writer Matthew Yglesias: “This is a dumb term, and it deserves to die.” One of the reasons why it doesn’t is that Silicon Valley’s powerful marketing machine that drives platform capitalism is beautifully adjusted to a global network of willing volunteers; from the one size fits all TED format to more thematically specific publications and conferences. Even well-meaning activist networks such as Shareable or the P2P-Foundation play a rather questionable role in keeping the myth of the “sharing-economy” alive.
This is not to say that there are no great initiatives and indeed businesses that are trying to use the power of digital technology or simply their imagination to practice forms of exchange that could actually be called sharing. They do exist and it is wonderful that they do. However, their value in the “sharing economy” as it is currently staged by the stakeholders of platform capitalism is that of providing an illegitimate ethical charge, a fig leave for an alarming mutation of our economy. I think they deserve better! Yet, in order to even have a chance at turning this development into something that might be legitimately called “sharing economy,” we need to be absolutely clear about the fact that platform capitalism does not even remotely resemble it.
By Julia Dreher and Francesca Pick
Today’s most known representatives of the sharing economy discussed in global media are online platforms built on top of venture capital backed, hierarchically structured organizations. Francesca Pick and Julia Dreher argue that there is a fundamental misunderstanding today in the discussion of the subject: the sharing economy is built on rhizomatic network structures holding the potential for deeper societal transformation.
It’s been a long night, you’re at a pub, and you want nothing more than to get home quickly. Finding a cab this late at night in London is nearly impossible, but luckily you have the Uber app on your phone and can order a car right to the pub’s doorstep without leaving the comfort of your seat. You quickly choose between Uber Black or Uber X (the cheaper version of the Uber black car service that runs with “drivers like you and me”), tap the “request car” button, and you’re ready to go. Two minutes later a black Renault driven by a young man in his 30s pulls up. You will not even have to talk with him to pay the bill because the app takes care of that for you.
Uber, the on-demand taxi app, has been a hot topic in the media over the past months. From the regulatory issues and bans the company has recently faced in various European cities to growing criticisms of its aggressive expansion strategies and sales tactics, to protests being staged by its drivers, Uber is capturing the public’s attention. Interestingly, The Guardian, Time, Salon, der Spiegel and many other prominent media sources participating in the discussion surrounding Uber have been describing the company as one of the key representatives of the so-called “sharing economy.” This is an unfortunate misnomer.
The sharing economy is a relatively recent phenomenon that experts and academics are still trying to articulate. The term is intended to capture new, more collaborative forms of creation, production, distribution, trade and consumption of goods and services that are being enabled by new technological platforms. By focusing on Uber as the representative of “the sharing economy,” we risk confusing the public’s understanding of the sharing economy and overlooking many revolutionary enterprises that better exemplify an ethos of actual sharing.
Let’s start with the basics: one of the underlying tenets of the sharing economy is that technology should enable us to use our resources more efficiently by replacing the ownership of goods with access. As Rachel Botsman describes in her 2010 book What’s mine is yours, new apps and online platforms can unlock the “idling capacity” of houses, cars and utilities by matching people’s haves with other people’s wants. Such technologies, she argues, will help reduce overall consumption and represent an important step towards more sustainable lifestyles.
Ride-sharing is a good example of a ‘true’ sharing economy: people driving from A to B can harness the “idling capacity” of their cars by filling their seats and splitting the cost of gas with travellers going to the same destination. Uber and its competitors such as Lyft or Wundercar are particularly fond of describing themselves as real-time or on-demand ride-sharing apps. According to Wundercar’s website, the app helps you to “spontaneously find someone to give you a lift.” Likewise, Lyft drivers are described as “your friend with a car”.
Referring to these apps as “ride-sharing” services, however, is deceiving. Their drivers don’t happen to be riding through town and spontaneously decide to give somebody a ride. They are semi-professional or private individuals looking to top up their paychecks, working as informal taxi drivers. Since they are on the road because of the app, we cannot speak of “idling capacity” here. Nothing is actually being shared. For this reason, the French government recently issued Uber a €100 000 fine for mis-labeling themselves a “car-sharing” service when in fact they are a private transportation company.
But the absence of any real sense of sharing runs deeper. As a brand, Uber promotes a lifestyle that is hardly egalitarian, communitarian or conservationist: their website features images of young, well-dressed, successful-looking people that invoke an air of luxury, materialism and elitism. What’s more, recent stories in the media document Uber’s “workers’” lack of rights and the company’s unscrupulous sales tactics. At the end of the day, Uber, for all its hype, is hardly a departure from the individualism and precariousness of other capitalist enterprises.
There is no doubt that Uber is disrupting an industry that is dominated by cartels and local monopolies. Nor is there any question that it is offering an impeccable service for which there is a large market. In this, Uber at least opens the door to begin imagining a different configuration of urban transportation services. But Uber is still perfectly in line with our current economic system. This is both its strength and weakness. The fact that it is only marginally different from that which already exists makes it much easier for it to be adopted by the mainstream. But this robs it of any ability to remedy the economic, social and environmental problems that our current system faces. As recent criticisms have pointed out, Uber is in fact exacerbating many of those same problems.
So if companies like Uber provide a misleading and negative image of “the sharing economy,” what might the true sharing economy look like?
Platforms like Uber are built on top of venture-capital-backed, hierarchically structured organizations. These platforms may enable people to share their resources, skills, and time, as well as to finance and produce their goods in mildly more collaborative ways. However, at the end of the day, they facilitate little more than a transactional form of “sharing” not much different than that of conventional capitalist exchange. While the pretense of “sharing” colors the front end of the services they offer, rarely does an ethos of collaboration permeate their actual organizational structure.
Uber is a classical Weberian hierarchy, based on a vertical, linear understanding of superiority and subordination. The higher one climbs up the ladder, the more influence and power one gains. At the bottom of the company are the drivers who lack employment protection, have no official wage, and no say over their rights. Above the drivers are the founders and management who set the rules and aims of the organization and impose their decisions on the drivers. Above them are the shareholders who provide capital for the organization and force it to maximize the values of the shares through increased profits. With profit-maximisation as their ultimate, operative logic, companies like Uber, Lyft, and many others claiming to be a part of the sharing economy invariably favor efficiency over social impact, output over outcome. Such organizations put more emphasis on the question of “how” they can produce something (i.e. to maximize profit) instead of “what” they are producing (i.e. the quality of their product and its social and environmental impact).
Instead of transforming only the “front end” of the transactions and services that they offer, companies can implement the principles of sharing and collaboration in the “back end” of their enterprises. They can structure themselves in ways that distributes power and profit in less-hierarchical ways. Companies that are fully collaborative—that is, organizations that are collaborative at both front and back ends—better exemplify the ‘true’ sharing economy. Such companies are characterized by a heterarchical organizational structure.
“Heterarchy” has long been used to describe non-hierarchical or networked forms of organisation marked by flexible, horizontal structures that create greater opportunities for cooperation among actors within them. It fosters the emergence of diverse social relations. Different actors can communicate on the same level in such a way that enables anyone to take on greater or lesser responsibility according to their differing degrees of motivation, expertise, etc. The creation of such horizontal, flexible cross-connections leads to the recombination and creation of knowledge and often results in increased innovation and increased resilience. Unlike hierarchies, where encounters are foreseeable due to rigid and defined structures, heterarchies enable the emergence of and are able to cope with complexity and contingent, non-planned events.
The term heterarchy was first coined by Warren McCulloch in 1945 as a way to describe the general modeling of networks in relation to his work on central nervous systems and cybernetics. Heterarchies promote the emergence of rhizomatic structures as described by the French philosophers Gilles Deleuze and Felix Guatarri. In a rhizomatic network structure, a higher number of diverse relations are enabled through the possibility of complex interconnections that go beyond the hierarchical modalities of superiority and subordination. “The rhizome is a system of shortcuts and detours and is a place for ‘unforeseen encounters’. Within the rhizome, linear causality is replaced by a chain of contingencies.”
Neal Gorenflo, founder of Shareable, the non-profit news hub on the sharing economy, points to the fact that heterarchical organizations encourage and embrace a kind of sharing that is transformational rather than the merely transactional. For Gorenflo, such heterarchical organizations need not neglect considerations of output and efficiency, but in the process they prioritize distributing power relations and creating social impact.
A particularly good example of a heterarchical organization is OuiShare. OuiShare is an international community, a think-and-do-tank whose mission is to build and nurture a collaborative society. OuiShare’s main activities are community building, incubating projects and offering support to individuals and organizations through professional services and education. Examples of OuiShare projects include OuiShare Fest, a 3-day festival about the Collaborative Economy; POC21, a 5 week accelerator program for the development of open source, sustainable products; and Sharitories, a tool kit for cities and regions wishing to implement collaborative programs such as bike and car-sharing schemes.
The OuiShare community has a core team that consists of a several dozen people who run the organization on a daily basis, but the whole network is comprised of over 1000 volunteer ‘members’ whose participation within OuiShare is based mainly on their own ostensibly altruistic motives. The most important group of highly engaged members are called ‘Connectors’; they serve as highly active nodes in the network who animate and coordinate local communities and projects. As a “do-cracy”, OuiShare allows anyone with a strong interest and high motivation to take on greater responsibility and participate in decision-making processes or lead projects. Positions with high responsibilities are not static but change over time. This flexible structure enables OuiShare to open up a wider range of possibilities for participation within the network. Control and decision making processes are dealt with in a collaborative way, enabling the strengthening and building of a commons and social capital, fostering communities, relationships and developing resilience.
Some critics have argued that the sharing economy can only ever be parasitic to capitalism because those who do not already have private property to share are by default excluded from it. Such arguments are premised on a narrow understanding of “sharing” limited to the direct exchange of goods or services of equal value. Platforms like Couchsurfing call into question such criticisms and allow us to think about sharing in a broader sense. Couchsurfing is the perfect example of a rhizomatic structure that allows users to move beyond a traditional, transactional mode of sharing. On Couchsurfing you can “surf” a couch even if you don’t have one to offer. If you can’t host, you might still offer your time to show someone around who is visiting your town. Collaboration is based on a much broader sense of exchange, tied more to notions of redistribution. Those who can offer something, offer it. Those who are in need can accept that offer but that doesn’t mean that they are obliged to give back something of the same value to the same person. Collaboration is distributed across the network and follows a rather circular logic. If you don’t have the same goods to offer back, you might offer something else to someone else. Eventually what goes around comes around and everyone is satisfied. This circular logic is essential to rhizomatic structures. Deleuze and Guatarri describe the network as a system of shortcuts and detours, which is what we can observe with Couchsurfing: rather than a “straight and direct” exchange of goods of the same value, we can see horizontal interactions between different participants of the network.
Numerous other examples of heterarchical organizations abound. CoWheels Car Club is a car sharing platform in the UK that runs as a not-for-profit social enterprise, where all surplus generated is reinvested back into the organisation to help fulfill its social mission of reducing car ownership and its negative effects on the environment. An example that takes collaboration one step further is Loconomics, a local peer-to-peer service marketplace from San Francisco, which is cooperatively owned by the freelancers who provide the services on the platform. A similar model is implemented by Guerrilla Translation, a P2P translation collective and cooperative from Spain that offers the same services as a translation agency.
Fairmondo, a German startup, offers a slightly different approach to participating in “the sharing economy”. Fairmondo is an Amazon-like online marketplace, owned and governed by its users, who are also its shareholders. An even more extreme example of such a distributed marketplace is the decentralized transportation system known as La Zooz. La Zooz eliminates ownership of the platform altogether by using an algorithm that runs by itself on the servers of each individual participant of the network. By running on the “Blockchain” (the technology underlying Bitcoin), La Zooz is able to operate as a decentralized, autonomous organization.
Many of the best-known platforms currently associated with the sharing economy, such as Uber, are only transforming one part of the equation. In so doing, they perpetuate centralized, hierarchical, capitalist systems that stymie any kind of fundamental societal transformation. It’s true that such marketplaces have been crucial for opening doors and spreading the concept of the sharing economy to the mainstream. But collaboration can mean a lot more than simply offering a platform for transactional sharing. As companies like Uber come under increasing fire from the media, we may be tempted to write off the concept of the “sharing economy” altogether. Here though, it is important to look to the countless projects that truly exemplify an ethos of sharing and collaboration to be reminded of the exciting potential of this movement.
When evaluating platforms claiming to be a part of the “sharing economy”, it is important to look at why they were set up, how they are organized, and who they are intended to benefit. Those that implement a logic of collaboration, sharing and distributed power at each of these levels, stand to offer a compelling vehicle for change and force us to take seriously the transformational power of the ‘true’ sharing economy.
 For Max Weber’s theory of bureaucracy and hierarchy, see his ground-breaking work “Economy and Society” (1922)
 See for example Der Spiegel’s “Kalifornischer Kapitalismus” or Sebastian Olma’s “Never Mind the Sharing Economy: Here’s Platform Capitalism”
Recently, Taco Bell made its Periscope debut with a live "newscast," unveiling its latest breakfast concoction -- the biscuit taco
"We're always in beta and trying things out," said Ms. Friebe. She said that approach resonates with the way young people, who were born into technology, experience things. "[Our consumers] are used to living in this world where people are constantly trying something, seeing if it works and making changes."
Taco Bell is also transporting consumers back to their childhood with inventions like Cap'n Crunch Delights, a doughnut hole inspired by the classic cereal, as well as ads like "Unboxing Kids," which features a brother-sister duo who went viral with their retro fist-pumping home video of unwrapping a Nintendo 64. "[Young people] have access to all of this information and technology, but it also can be overwhelming," said Ms. Friebe. "They are drawn to things like nostalgia."
“According to Gartner surveys, content is the most important thing marketers can do and yet they’re unequipped to take it on from a skills and sourcing level.”
Last week, Gartner released the results of their study around the 5 top emerging trends in digital marketing, and one of the big 5 is around the “rise of big content”.
Most marketers understand how important content is for their audience and their overall marketing strategy, but they critically lack resources/skills to either create good content or source good content to curate.
The choice of words Gartner used was very wise: we all know “marketers understanding that” does not mean “CEOs understanding that”. So just like most marketers, you might be facing a situation where you and anyone within your company who can and would write has millions of other things to do with deadlines that can’t be pushed.
In my opinion there are three answers you can bring to scale your content marketing and address the challenges created by the rise of big content:
You can’t do it all alone, so why not leverage others in this ongoing effort? Co-workers and freelance writers can help you keep up with high goals for content publishing. If you are interested in how to leverage others in your content marketing efforts, I wrote an article about it last week.
People often think doing content marketing is 100% content creation. It’s not. There is great content out there on the Web just waiting for your to leverage it.
Consider the fact that it takes on average 150 hours to create a white paper or an ebook, 4 hours to write a blog post and 20 minutes to turn a relevant content into a curated post.
And it’s not just about finding the time or resources to write content, it’s also about publishing credible content. A study from the CMO council revealed that third-party content is 4x to 7x more trusted than your own.
Of course, we’re not objective on that part. But think about how CRM software changed the way we’re doing sales today. Think about how Marketing automation changed the way we’re sending emails by interacting with our prospects at the right time, based on their interactions with our website and their behaviors. In a similar way, Content Marketing software also saves marketers a lot of time which enables them to focus on what’s important.
To quote Gartner again: “Marketers need to build a content marketing supply chain and determine how to create, curate and cultivate content.”
Are you ready to adapt to the rise of big content?
Image by Jeff Rowley.
And for more tips on how to scale your content marketing strategy with limited resources, download our free ebook.
Julie is our Director of Content Marketing. Before joining the other side of the Force, Julie was a client of Scoop.it while managing the Marketing of another SaaS software start-up in San Francisco for 2 years (Ivalua). With a Master’s Degree in Consulting from Audencia Graduate School of Management, Julie has lived in 4 different countries and worked in Marketing and Consulting for Apple, l’Oréal, Cartier and Weave Consulting. Besides being a tech nerd tweeting about New Technologies (@JulieGTR), Julie is a pretty serious sports addict (ski, muay thai, field hockey, tennis, etc.), a traveling fanatic and a foodie (either in the privacy of her kitchen or at new trendy restaurants).