Sharing Grows Up
If you thought the sharing economy was a passing fad or something exclusively for Ralph Nader voters*, think again. A new organization called Peers.org is trying to make sharing mainstream. It serves as both a member network for some of the leading players in the sharing economy as well as a public advocate for the institution.
Advocacy is going to play a larger role in the fuzzy, hard-to-regulate sharing marketplace. A recent lawsuit brought against a NYC man testifies to this. Nigel Warren has been accused of illegally running his own hotel via Airbnb. He faces up to $30K in fines if found guilty (Airbnb is helping out with his defence). We can’t help but think that other peer-to-peer services like Zimride and Lyft, which essentially provide unregulated taxi service, surely hold similar potential for litigation.
Beyond advocacy, Peers represents a maturation of the sharing economy. The site has a grownup, cohesive look with slick, professional graphics and videos.
Some folks such as Salon’s Andrew Leonard have accused Peers of being a little too slick. He wrote a couple articles about Peers; one entitled “The sharing economy gets greedy” accused Peers of being a front for sharing economy giants and the numerous venture capital firms that support them. A follow up article, based on new information that refuted some of his original contentions, still questioned how “grassroots” Peers is (they use that term to describe themselves on their website).
Peers director Natalie Foster said explicitly that the group wasn’t a lobbying organization, but our question for Leonard and other skeptics is so what? So what if Peers serves the interests of multimillion dollar VC firms supporting the sharing economy? So what if Peers were to morph into a lobby group? So what if Peers starts to work within the existing political system to give the sharing economy a fair shot at going mainstream? If the net result of these efforts is people sharing more and consuming less, so what?
And while the term “grassroots” might strike Leonard as disingenuous, we are intimate with a few of the 22 organizations that are members of the Peers network right now. These ostensible titans of the sharing economy–companies like Yerdle that facilitate the free-exchange of goods–aren’t exactly Walmart and Monsanto. With the exception of Airbnb and a couple others, most of these companies are scrappy little guys trying to make money while creating a new, responsible, people-centric form of capitalism. If they can strike it rich while reducing consumption and bringing people together, our hats are off to them.
*This author voted for Ralph Nader in at least one Presidential election.