One of the more interesting innovations brought on by the Internet and smartphones that connect through it is the “sharing economy.”
In the sharing economy, you can share cars, bicycles, vacation accommodations, clothes, books, toys, tools, computer software, and—believe it or not—heifers, often without paying.
Even when you do have to pay, you typically pay less than conventionally. It’s a strange, strange world we live in now. Some people don’t trust it. As you might expect, the younger the crowd, the more willing they are to experiment and accept.
Different monikers are used to describe this new economy. Along with the sharing economy, also used are “peer economy,” “access economy,” “peer-to-peer exchange,” “collaborative consumption,” and “uberization.”
Some academics feel that the term sharing economy is misleading because profit making is often still the primary motivation. The term is still commonly used even when the only sharing that’s happening is the use of portable digital technology to make transactions more efficient and less expensive.
The term uberization stems from the ride-hailing service Uber. Uber Technologies, headquartered in San Francisco with operations around the world, develops the Uber smartphone app that makes it possible to flag rides from Uber drivers, who use their own personal cars, which can be considerably less expensive than taking a taxi.
A new survey by ReportLinker sheds light on the phenomenon of ride hailing, which in turn sheds light on the sharing economy. Ride-hailing services are one type of shared mobility service. Others include car-sharing services, which let users lease an automobile for a few hours a day, ride-sharing services, which let users share trips with others going the same way, and bike-sharing services, which let users pay nominal fees to rent a bicycle for an hour or so.
Millennials—generally those born between the early 1980s and the early 2000s—have the highest comfort level with the economy of sharing. Among ride-hailing services, Uber, Lyft, and ZipCar are mentioned the most frequently in unaided questions from this ReportLinker survey.
About why they liked ride-hailing services the most, 64% of respondents mentioned the ability to quickly open an app and request a driver to come to you, 35% mentioned the efficiency of the experience, and 28% mentioned the reduced cost.
Shared mobility services have affected not only the taxi industry but also the automobile industry in general as a result of the potential for a reduced need of car ownership. Established car manufacturers such as Toyota as well as automobile startups such as Tesla have plans to enter the shared mobility market.
All is not honky-dory in the world of Uber, the largest of the car-hailing services. Uber has been criticized, and sued, for treating drivers as employees without giving them health, vacation, retirement, or other benefits. In order to thwart competition, Uber employees have been caught, in the hundreds, ordering rides from competitors only to cancel them.
Along with transportation, another major aspect of the sharing economy is hospitality. The two most well-known players are Couchsurfing and Airbnb.
Couchsurfing, originally a nonprofit based in New Hampshire before converting to for-profit status, lets users arrange over the Internet to stay in other users’ homes, typically for a small number of days, for free. Users can optionally elect to be “verified” by paying Couchsurfing an annual fee.
With Couchsurfing, hosts open their homes to travelers without receiving payment, with the only expectation that guests will do the same with someone else when they’re in the position to do so. Couchsurfing’s goals, according to its website, are to create educational encounters, to facilitate cultural understanding, and to spread tolerance.
Airbnb, a for-profit company based in San Francisco, also lets users arrange over the Internet to stay in other users’ homes, also typically for a small number of days, but for a bill paid to those users, with Airbnb charging a transaction fee. Some Airbnb hosts have a Couchsurfing profile to advertise their Airbnb hosting profile.
Other hospitality-exchange organizations include BeWelcome and the Hospitality Club.
What about heifers, or young cows? Heifer International, based in Little Rock, Arkansas, is a nonprofit sharing economy organization. It describes itself as an economic development charity that seeks to eradicate hunger and poverty through distributing farm animals and training on how to use them to families in need around the world.
Recipients of heifers and other animals agree to “pass on the gift” by sharing animal offspring and the skills of animal husbandry with other impoverished families.