The Collaborative Economy Defined

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The Collaborative Economy defined: An economic model where commonly available technologies enable people to get what they need from each other.  

There are over 37 terms being used for this market, but the one that makes the most sense in terms of scope and accuracy is the Collaborative Economy. The above image is a screen capture from my powerpoint slide that I use in presentations, research, publications and with the Crowd Companies council, that we founded at the end of 2013. The honeycomb metaphor is an apt one; as it’s a representation of many individuals working together as a collective, see the matching market  infographic.

While each term has drawbacks, the Collaborative Economy moniker is a wide enough scope of the overall trend: P2P transactions. An example of these peer based transactions include: crowdfunding where people fund each others projects, the maker movement where people make their own goods instead of buying them from traditional retail, P2P lending where people lend each other money instead of from traditional lenders, crypto currencies where the crowd owns the ledgers, and the sharing economy a term popularized by the media where people rent homes, cars or services to each other. The popularized term, sharing economy, while a misnomer in it’s own right, is just a subset of the overall movement of P2P commerce.

I’m not alone, it’s worth noting that the core thought leaders are using the term Collaborative Economy like Lisa Gansky, Rachel Botsman, and Robin Chase and the premier festival Ouishare was the first to use this, even before I. The Collaborative Economy moniker and definition is the right scope and is most accurate for this growing movement. I welcome your feedback in the below comments.

13 Replies to “The Collaborative Economy Defined”

  1. Regardless of the thought leaders who adopt this definition, I still find it has room for improvement. If Uber starts using its own self-driving cars, does it stop being a collaborative economy company? Is Zipcar not a collaborative economy model, since it isn’t P2P? Is eBay a collaborative company? (I don’t see many people considering it so, but it is the largest platform in the world for people to get what they need from each other.) And by this definition, every sole proprietorship fits (since each sole proprietorship is, quite literally, an individual providing services or products to other individuals.)

    As I have suggested, collaborative models are collaborative because they allow people to share in the ownership and consumption of goods and services. While Uber and Zipcar have very different models, they both permit people to collectively share assets and/or their consumption. To me, the sharing in the sharing economy is not about how people procure things or even if they are sharing things out of altruism–the sharing or collaborative economy is about technology allowing the more efficient consumption of assets in a collective fashion.

    I’d still like to see a more robust conversation about the definition and would love to have a definition that better suits all the players we today recognize as being in this industry. (But, with so many voices and opinions, perhaps that is not possible.)

  2. As a broad term for all the technologies you cite, this makes sense. It’s very hopeful. Those who prefer to see the dark side won’t adopt this term, but the terminology is what drives the conversation.

  3. I like the power of the term collaborative economy but I think that the definition doesn’t capture the element of geography and time. With the collaborative economy, I am able to get what I want from sources around the world, when and where I want it. That ‘instant access’ that is possible to goods, services, knowledge, trends, is an invaluable contribution of the collaborative economy.

  4. Great points Augie. One of the things the “collaborative economy” moniker doesn’t fully address is the shift from ownership to access. Access economy is another term that is suitable for some of the models that you’ve mentioned.

    Good point on the individual sole proprietor but the difference in this economy is that we’re seeing the rise of the “Freelancer” who does NOT have a business license, nor need one, and that’s the difference.

  5. Great article and well defined economy. The collaborative economy represents a new way of thinking about business, exchange, value and community.

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