Mapping the Peer-to-Peer Economy

p2p mapThere are a number of instantiations of peer-to-peer economic activity in which people leverage their latent skills or loan out latent capacity of tools they own. Each instantiation vary on a scale in terms of how much they tip in either direction of firm or market characteristics. For example, it can be argued that many of the sharing economy websites today like AirBnB or TaskRabbit are more akin to the market logic of prices signaling a relationship between supply and demand. While this is true, I argue that such platforms still fall under the umbrella of the peer-to-peer economy for two reasons: First, because they support disintermediated transactions; transactions where there is no middleman negotiating the terms of the transaction. In such transactions, individuals must come to such terms on their own, therefore, the relevance of social frameworks (shared social norms) is still a prominent and overarching component that mediates and determines the success of the transaction. Where we rely on such frameworks to be embedded and assumed in the relationship we have with resellers, this framework must be renegotiated in each peer-to-peer transaction, thus making such websites part of the peer-to-peer economic phenomenon. The second reason is the characteristic of utilizing latent capacity: Both platforms take assets like unused rooms in a home or the skills not being used during an individuals free time and create a platform that communicates such latent capacity to those who might want them.

In the above figure (see below for greater detail) , I divide different peer-to-peer phenomenon based on the presence of monetary value and face-to-face interaction. Phenomena on the direct interaction side of the chart involve individuals communicating the terms of the transaction with each other. In examples like Neighborgoods or AirBnB, where people share household goods or rent out spare rooms in their home respectively, people communicate directly with each other, either via email or face-to-face about how the transaction will play out. In such cases, design mechanisms that help newcomers understand normative interactions on how to negotiate a transaction are important for integrating a distributed ad hoc base of participants. On the indirect interaction side of the chart, participants engage a pool of resources where much of the activity is not dependent on direct interaction or negotiation between contributors in order for the project to work. For example, contributions to Wikipedia or ZipCar do not require that two or more participants interact with each other in order for economic production to occur. Certainly there is a range of activity on such platforms that do involve direct interaction, however it is the characteristic of not requiring direct interaction that distinguishes such examples from other examples of peer-to-peer activity. The two sides reflecting the presence or lack thereof of monetary value simply point out that pricing signals regarding the relationship between supply and demand are used as mediating and motivational factors in the transactions. As stated earlier, while such factors are present, the peer-to-peer negotiation of transaction terms is still critical component to the success of the economic activity.

p2p map

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