A better name for the “sharing-economy”

Juan Cartagena
Dec 13, 2014 · 4 min read

“Sharing”, “collaborating”, “P2P”, “Access” or “Reputation” Economy. Yes, you all know what I am talking about. All those services to shares houses, cars, parkings, or skills, like AirBnB, Uber, KitchenSurfing, etc. When a new concept is pushed to society, it would be useful to agree on a denomination. So far there are 2 main winners (sharing and collaborating) but I believe there is room for improvement.

Rachel Botsman, founder at the Collaborative Lab and one of the renowned thought leaders in the space, wrote about this a few weeks ago (http://www.collaborativeconsumption.com/2014/11/27/collaborative-economy-a-transformative-lens-not-a-start-up-trend/). She suggests that she prefers “Collaborative Economy” because it covers the shift from centralized solutions to decentralized communities. While I agree with much of what she says, I personally find some weaknesses in the term.

The list below looks at pros and cons of the terms with regards to inclusiveness, benefit to people, and accuracy.

Sharing Economy:

+ It implies that a new economy is based on sharing, rather than owning.
+ Sounds romantic
+ People are already calling it this already

- Most services are not really “sharing”. AirBnB is not sharing, it’s renting short term. Zipcar is not sharing, it’s renting per hours instead of per days.
- It leaves out services like eBay where you buy or sell things online, which could lead to “short term ownership”

Collaborative Economy:

+ Implies that people collaborate to achieve things
+ Sounds romantic
+ It includes many more services. eBay would fit here.
+ People are already calling it this

- The concept does not seem to include services like ZipCar, because ZipCar is still a rental, just for shorter period. I don’t feel like there is collaboration between people.
- The economy has always been collaborative. That’s the definition of capitalism. A trade only happens when both parties win (in a free market with free will).
- In my opinion the name does not imply reduction in ownership, which I believe is a characteristic of all these products.
- When I call an Uber I don’t really collaborate. I am just a customer. I call it and it comes. And the driver is not really collaborating. She is doing a job. Somehow collaboration seems to imply “free things”, or “barter”, and that’s not the case.

P2P Economy:

+ Implies that transactions happen between people, reducing the overhead of the big corporations, reducing costs and increasing income for everyone
+ Revolve around the concept of being able to do anything for one another, either skill, products or services

- It’s a difficult concept name
- Again, it misses the opportunity to include a company like Zipcar which is Business to consumer
- Does not really imply a reduction in ownership or waste

Access Economy:

+ Implies access to products and services without ownership, in real-time on-demand super connected manner
+ Implies coordination, network, access, reduction of ownership
+ Does not care about whether it is based on peers or businesses, it’s about the access without need for ownership. Both B2C, P2P or B2B fit.
+ Focuses on the benefits, unlike Mesh
+ It includes products like Spotify, which are not “sharing”, but they are clearly part of a new economy where I don’t need to own the CDs.

- Might not be as romantic as sharing or collaborating.

On-Demand economy

+ Similar benefits to Access economy

- I find it less catchy than Access economy, too much jargon.

Reputation (or Trust) Economy:

+ Implies an economy based on reputation and trust, which enables certain trade like renting
+ Suggests that more reputation involves higher access
+ Suggests that people are at the core of the trade

- It does not imply on-demand access to any kind of products or services, does not imply less waste or ownership.

Who is using what names:

There are a number of organisations behind this new economy:
Collaborative Consumption, generally uses the term Collaborating
OuiShare, generally uses the term Sharing
Meshing.it holds the term Mesh in the name, although their slogan includes Sharing Economy
CrowdCompanies mentions both collaborative and sharing economy, perhaps because the founder Jeremiah understands the limitations of each of the terms.

Choosing a name…

My preference is Access Economy. I see many more pros, it is highly inclusive, and it is sufficiently romantic to hold a movement.

It could also be an aggregation of terms, or a new term altogether. Some examples: The “Collaborative mesh” or “collaborative access” brings the benefits to the network, but feels redundant and unnecessary.

Maybe there is no need to choose. If the thought leaders in this space have not agreed on the term, it might be because the other terms simply did not fit the semantic needs they had to bring these concepts forward, and they have done a remarkable job to get a significant part of the population to understands what it means and how they can improve their lives, and we should just be happy to go ahead with Sharing or Collaborative economy and rally for it.

If you have any other pros and cons I might not have considered, please let me know, I will edit with the suggestions. And here a little poll:
http://goo.gl/GwY8tD, would love to see what people think.

Juan is founder of traity.com. You can find me on Twitter @jc2go or email me at jc@traity.com

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