Sharing Our Feelings about the Sharing Economy

Is the Sharing Economy dead? A recent Fast Company post said so – driving home the point with the tag “We Killed It.” We’re not so sure. The sharing economy, based on transactions whose participants share access to services and products rather than owning them individually, may have its share of individual misses. But the ethos behind it – namely, that people want alternatives to the buy-it-all, seize-the-profit approach of decades past – still seems solid. Rachel Botsman, coauthor of The Rise of Collaborative Consumption, predicts the Sharing Economy will bring in $110 billion in revenues this year. A full 65 percent of consumers believe society would be better off if people owned less and shared more, according to Havas. And 78 percent of Millennials indicate they’d rather spend money on experiences than products. So maybe sharing isn’t dead. What’s more likely is that the sharing economy is taking time to find its way. Is this really surprising? As any three-year-old will tell you, sharing is hard. And if that’s true in principle, then making a business out of sharing is surely harder – fraught with miscommunication; logistical and inventory problems; and the unavoidable potential for bad actors. Thus, the social tool-sharing networks that first symbolized this movement have fallen on hard times. Fast Company reports that seven of eight early players in that space are now gone, including Ecomodo, Crowd Rent, Share Some Sugar, Thingloop, OhSoWe and SnapGoods. Gone too are a slew of other hotly-conceived sharing sites that pioneered the sharing economy. Meanwhile, even big names like Über and Airbnb must fight regulatory battles in order to continue operating. What’s our takeaway? Sharing is still a winning idea, but it’s only as good as its bones. If your car-sharing concept can’t minimize the risk of someone driving off with your clients’ beloved vehicles, it’s not going to sustain critical mass. Are people eager to lend their hard-earned funds to neighbors in need of a little money? Perhaps. But in this context, wouldn’t infrastructure be reassuring? Wouldn’t one like to see, say, legal paperwork that spells out obligations and consequences? Sharing economy champion Lisa Gansky – author of The Mesh: Why the Future of Business Is Sharing and THINK 15 alum – observes that credit unions could be the ultimate hybrid of sharing and structure. While credit unions don’t require members to warm up to a new, touchy-feely brand of banking, they do offer a true alternative to profit-driven banks. That’s good, because if the sharing economy is going to survive, it’s going to have to meld with the old-school notion of feasibility. Sharing isn’t dead: It’s iterating.