Collaborative economy concept

A collaborative economy. You may have heard it referred to as collaborative consumption. Peer economy. Sharing economy. Five or so years ago, the idea of sharing things with other people we didn’t even know was novel, seemed innovative, and felt like you were somehow helping your financial bottom line. Instead of buying a car you could rent one from a total stranger on the other side of town. Rather than staying at a pricey hotel, you could rent a room with someone who had a spare to share. It all sounded great in theory, and it still does today. However, now the conversation about collaborative consumption is changing.

What is collaborative consumption

Before we find out how, we first need to look at what collaborative consumption is. It’s really a simple concept: one person rents something that they’re not using to another person, usually a total stranger. After reading the description, I’m guessing there are a lot of, “OK, I get it. You mean like Airbnb?” reactions.

Exactly like Airbnb, in fact. Generally when you think of this sort of collaborative consumption, you think of big-ticket items like cars or houses, but it quickly spread to things like tools, clothing, high-priced designer accessories.

Probably the “poster child” of this business model is the power drill. Back in 2010, Rachel Botsman, author of The Rise of Collaborative Consumption, explained it like this, “How many of you own a power drill? That power drill will be used around 12 to 15 minutes in its entire lifetime, It’s kind of ridiculous, isn’t it? Because what you need is the hole, not the drill.” Light bulbs went off in minds around the world and people quickly jumped on the sharing bandwagon. Sites popped up across the Internet with the intent of sharing everything we owned, including the now-celebrated drill.

The reality was a little different. What sounded good in theory didn’t necessarily translate. People realized they could buy a drill for $30 rather than taking the time to find a drill, drive across town to “rent” it for $20, go back home, use it and drive back across town to return it. And with so much else in life, collaboration got the attention of big businesses and the capitalist drive kicked in, focusing on profits, marketing, market share and advertising. Collaboration still existed, but with big business hiding behind the curtain.

From sharing economy to capitalism

Some would argue that the sharing economy is past its expiration date. That it sounded great in concept but in practice, we as a society are not as receptive to the idea of sharing our cars, houses, bikes or designer sweaters.

The utopian ideal that was envisioned by so many of the collaborative start-ups was lost in translation, with companies that “awkwardly fit into—and at times completely twisted—this vision of neighbourhood sharing,” according to Sarah Kessler of Fast Company. Kessler argues that the collaborative concept morphed into capitalism, with big companies trying to still operate under the veil of sharing and collaboration, long after those original tenets were abandoned. This might be best evidenced by the creation of new positions such as Chief Collaboration Officer or with Collaboration Departments.

But as we knock on the door to 2016, we’re all more connected than ever thanks to the connective thread of the Internet, and we’ve gone through the initial honeymoon with collaborative consumption and maybe somehow understand it better. Big business is recognizing collaboration as a competitive advantage, realizing the power behind the crowd and the community.

Advantages of the collaborative economy

  • Convenience
  • Price
  • Sustainability habits
  • Access over ownership

If we enter into a truly collaborative economy, we’ll see the ripple effects and it will change the global conversation. Goods will have to be more durable to sustain the use and abuse that comes with sharing. We’ll have to ensure that our wireless infrastructure can handle the increase in access as people turn to the Internet to find goods and services. We’ll also see additional job creation as companies react to the concept of community.

Leaders in the collaborative economy

Which companies, then, are taking the lead in this new collaborative economy? Recently Forbes magazine listed some of the best. You will see a lot of names that will come as no surprise to you:

  • Airbnb – Rent a room, house, or apartment for your next trip instead of staying at a hotel.
  • DogVacay – Find someone to take care of your dog while you’re away.
  • Turo – Rent cars by the hour or by the day.
  • TaskRabbit – Hire other people to do jobs and different tasks for you.
  • Getaround – Another car sharing service.
  • Spinlister – Bike sharing.
  • Zaarly – This is a site for services, but users can create their own “stores” for their services (called a “reverse Craigslist”).
  • Uber and Lyft – Ride sharing; an alternative to a taxi service.
  • Lending Club – for when you need money, a peer-to-peer network for lending.
  • Fon – A Wi-Fi exchange.
  • SideCar – Similar to Lyft or Uber.
  • Poshmark – A clothing exchange.
  • Neighborgoods – A sort of virtual garage sale.
  • NextDoor – A neighbourhood news, classified and crime watch site. Sort of a virtual bulletin board.

It’s likely that in the coming years we’ll see the collaborative economy and peer sharing grow. We will only continue to become more and more connected to each other thanks to technology, and a shift to sustainability and resource conservation will continue to play a more prominent role in our lives as we try to reverse the damage already done to our precious natural resources.

Have you used any of these collaborative/peer sharing services? What do you think the future holds for the collaborative economy? Do you think the collaborative concept is changing the overall conversation? We’d love to hear your thoughts.

image: Collaborative Consumption and Shared Economy via Shutterstock

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