Sharing the Sharing Economy

May 15th, 2016

  Pamela Pavliscak

People intuitively get what the sharing economy really is and what isn't.

Care Derailed

The sharing, on-demand, collaborative economy is all over the news. But what kind of impact is it really having? According to the latest research by Pew, it is reaching some people but maybe not in the ways we would expect.

Around a quarter of the people surveyed say they haven't used any major sharing platform. Only 15% of Americans have used a ride-hailing service, and twice as many have never heard of Uber or Lyft. Half have never heard of home-sharing platforms like Airbnb. That seems much smaller than West coaster/East coaster tech circles might have imagined. After all, according to the report, the majority of people using these services, are under 45, college-educated, and affluent.

Americans are also a little confused about how it all works. In the abstract, people “tend to view these services as software platforms" according to Pew. However, 68% of ride-hailing users believe that both drivers and the services themselves should be responsible for making sure drivers are trained properly. Likewise, 67% believe that both homeowners and the home-sharing platforms themselves should make sure properties are like they’re described. A joint responsibility.

Much less confusing is online fundraising. One-in-five Americans have given to online fundraising projects. People like to donate money to those in need. A full 68% of adults who’ve contributed on crowdfunding sites have given money to help someone facing hardship or financial challenges. Another 34% have given to fund a new product or invention, while others donate money for school projects or fundraisers (32%), to musicians or other creative artists (30%), and to projects for new businesses (10%). And 3% have created their own project on such sites.

And yet, it seems that people don't really bundle ride-hailing, clothing rental, second-hand purchases, home rental, and online fundraising together. Maybe this is a flaw in the research. More so, it's a flaw in the language. 61% of Americans have never heard of the term crowdfunding and 73% are not familiar with the term sharing economy. Is hiring a ride or renting a home really sharing? Is crowdfunding really the big goal people have in mind when they want to help?

Shared responsibility is the theme tying these disparate products, services, communities, and concepts together. The people in Pew's study seem to have an intuitive grasp of that. What would a real sharing, collaborative economy look like? Designing technology for collective well-being factors, like care and community, may be a way forward.

Explore More: Social Responsibility, Collaboration