Websites like Airbnb, taskrabbit, and Neighborgoods are typically featured in conversations about the peer-to-peer economy, collaborative consumption, or the sharing economy. The platforms are hailed for their role in boosting local economic activity by empowering people to leverage what they have (goods or skills) to sell, barter, or share with people doing business in their locale. Such platforms have also found their way into academic research, with most attention being paid to their design features that infuse trust into transaction between strangers. Despite all this attention in both popular and academic circles, there is one area of research where these platforms, or what I call peer-to-peer living sites, have not been discussed and in my opinion, deserve an introduction.
After firing up my browser on the free wifi at a Starbucks coffee shop, I was brought to the Starbucks Digital Network Home page. I assumed that this was just Starbucks foray into digital content aggregation and advertising however my assumption that their intentions where narrowly set on corporate profiteering were quickly changed when I noticed the a link titled “My Neighborhood.”
In Michael Hardt and Antonio Negri’s recent book, “Commonwealth” the authors focus on the idea of the city as a location where the disenfranchised are able to organize and take what they have to contend their marginalized position. In other words, the authors look at the common resources available to people and how, when individuals come together,they can leverage their “common wealth” to overcome obstacles.
In their 2007 article In the Spirit of Collaborating, Nilan and D’Eredita point out that in the study of cognitive behavior, the moments when people contend with problems or situations are seen as a chunk of time/space about which people collaborate/communicate. This chunk of time/space is what Nilan and D’Eredita say informs system designs where people converge to share and create meaning to address their situations/solve their problems through access to resources (information/data; computing functionalities; links to others, e.g., experts).
Taking this concept outside the realm of cognitive science, the authors apply the idea to their definition of community, which refers to the (direct and vicarious) communicating among individuals engaging with or involved in addressing uncertainty in one or more problems/situations.