An early enthusiast of what she prefers to call “collaborative consumption,” British-born Rachel Botsman is considered one of the world’s experts on the topic. She coined the term with co-author Roo Roger in her book, What’s Mine is Yours, published in 2010. She now teaches at Oxford’s Saïd Business School.
TECHNOLOGIST How do you define collaborative consumption?
RACHEL BOTSMAN What made the peer-to-peer economy possible was technology that matches demand with supply. eBay was the godfather. But what made this economy collaborative was the exploitation of unused assets (the idling capacity), a critical mass, the belief in the commons and trust between strangers. When collaborative consumption emerged, the question that puzzled me was, “What would be the eBay for sharing?”
TECHNOLOGIST What’s the role of money?
RACHEL BOTSMAN Not much research has been done on this, but money seems to emerge as a form of security. With the exception of initiatives that were meant only to be altruistic, the introduction of a monetary exchange added credibility and allowed many collaborative consumption platforms to scale. In any economy, when you remove the money, it creates more friction and coordination costs go up.
TECHNOLOGIST Do you see differences between North American and European initiatives?
RACHEL BOTSMAN European companies are more bound to the original values, such as openness, transparency and empowerment. In the U.S. the scale – the “critical mass” part of the sharing economy – has in some cases taken over the other values. A cautionary note is needed here, though. We see so much media coverage of Uber and other aggressive companies branding themselves as members of the sharing economy that it would be easy to generalise. There are plenty of wonderful initiatives in the U.S., too.