Airbnb has become the largest hotel chain in the World, Uber expanded against large protests from the taxi industry and the Lending Club got listed on Wall Street. The sharing economy will generate revenues up to $335 billion by 2025, and Uber alone is valued at $ 41 billion.
The millennial generation has expressed a lack of trust in incumbents and is craving an alternative, and would rather trust peers over brands. With predictions of the sharing economy affecting nearly all industries, venture capitalists are pouring investments into what is hopefully the next Uber.
But in reality the sharing economy is not about sharing at all. New sharing services are in fact commercial platforms that move distribution from traditional distribution to digital ecosystems. The sharing economy is merely a business model favoring digital ecosystems.
Most successful services associated by the sharing economy are essentially all about convenience, cost efficiency and ease of access rather than sharing and social interactions. The fundamental of the sharing economy lies in trust and despite common belief only 19% of millennials believe that people can be trusted.
But building trust is a time-consuming process. This is made possible by big data and analytics, measuring your trustworthiness based on everything from how you fill out forms online to who your Facebook friends are.
The second central element of the sharing economy is centered on the transaction. By implementing financial infrastructure as an integrated part of the platforms, friction related to payments, settlement and insurance is significantly removed.
For incumbents, the sharing economy is a disruptive force that is challenging the playbook of existing markets. For workers, the sharing economy can both provide a secondary income for some, as well as supporting freelancers. For regulators it is the time to adapt rather than prevent and prohibit.
Considering these characteristics, it is safe to assume that neither Uber drivers, Airbnb homeowners or the investors and founders of Airbnb, Uber and Google have no altruistic motives in the sharing economy.
The sharing economy is merely a business model favoring digital ecosystems, where the factors of production are no longer the value drivers, but the customer and user relationship and related data are the most important assets.
This challenges how we view ownership of both the means of production as well as the value of labor, and whether services offered through the platforms are offered by an individual or corporation are indifferent.
As a socio-economic system the sharing economy has been both associated with socialism as well as free-market capitalism. The sharing economy can be viewed as a digital feudalistic system where both individuals and companies become vassals who provide and rent services at the grace of digital ecosystems like Google, Facebook, Uber and Airbnb.
After all, when everyone is equal there will always be room for someone to be more equal than others.