Monday, March 2, 2009

The Anatomy of Sharing

I just wrote a new talk to be given in full form in Seattle in the middle of March, that I previewed in a 6 minute 40 second version (Pecha Kucha) last week here in Boston (wish that had been taped!). It really held people's attention. This structure does a nice job clarifying where sharing has come from, its current technology-enabled potential, and how and where 2.0 is game changing. Here are the cliff notes (anecdotes, jokes, and facial expressions excluded).

Types of sharing:

Simple sharing (personal): My stuff shared with my immediate trusted friends typically unplanned and so by luck. Think food, books, the spare bed, the car.

Simple sharing (corporate): Company’s stuff, shared with usually anybody who is willing to pay for it. Company distributes its resources across a geography (or it might be virtual). Think hotels (formalized bed sharing), public libraries (books), cars (of course). I was struck by the fact that when looked at in this light, Zipcar wasn’t that innovative. On the other hand, I guess I’ll take credit for the fact that no one had previously thought you could easily (and profitably) share cars. Technology was required for that breakthrough.

Upsides: Pay for only what you use. Distributed locations expand access. No responsibility when not yours. Users might come up with interesting innovations if owner is open to it.

Downsides to this kind of sharing: company has to place the assets in the right place (see poor green guy in bottom left whose need is unmet?) and the assets need to be adequately used to merit their existence (lots of red dots with no takers, unfilled hotels and resorts).

Collaborative and Distributed Sharing (personal): Our (those who choose to participate) stuff shared with just about anyone. Think Flickr, Facebook, GoLoco, couchsurfing (and lots and lots of others).

There are some distinctive aspects of 2.0: Messier and less predictable sharing. Requires much less “stuff” than if everyone had to own their own (this applies to corporate sharing as well). Lower threshold to reap benefits since all the assets are “excess capacity.” This reduced ROI demand has some important implications: the sharing can succeed in more ecosystems, a faster uptake (both supply and demand)is possible since threshold to participation has been lowered. Where there are intangible (non-monetary) benefits to be had, these are likely to be captured, valued, and enjoyed, again because of lower investment to participate.

Can we have the “collaborative and distributed sharing (corporate)”? I believe we can, which is what I was arguing for in my blog on Cooperative Capitalism.

A critical piece to the anatomy of sharing is to think about not only the assets (and where there is excess capacity), and the demand for them, but also about the platform itself, that enables this participation. In the olden days, these transactions were difficult and so sharing didn’t happen. In these new technology-facilitated days, beautiful platforms make for very “greasy” platforms – easy and quick participation.


Roy Russell said...

Cloud computing is a nice example of simple sharing (corporate), with many users sharing the phyiscal computer assets. And if open source software development is Collaborative and Distributed Sharing (personal) then there are some Collaborative and Distributed Sharing (corporate) platforms and tools that make it easier. Github, for example, is a corporate platform that facilitates Collaborative and Distrubited Sharing.

ericbritton said...

Very nice Robin. In fact, and as I am sure you can well imagine, I have been working on a generic transport sharing project for some time and hope to have the wraps off it in the month ahead. It will be announced on World Streets - but I will smuggle early info on it as I move ahead. So again,thanks for that good piece.

Marshall said...

Another example of sharing excess capacity is SETI where excess personal computer capacity, and there is a lot of it, is used to look for extraterrestrial life. There are other examples for protein folding, etc and I recall one sharing personal wireless networks. ooma is a service that uses a combination of users' local phone service to provide a hybrid-like VOIP phone service for free long distance. There are some interesting possibilities in sharing resources that companies are using to provide new services. Interesting possibilities arise if there are foundational services (such as smart grids) based on open standards that facilitate such sharing. Your piece triggers the imagination Robin. Thanks

Robin Chase said...

Mike, My talk in Seattle is part of a closed-to-attendees conference. But you could always see if you can slip by: look for ACRL conference. I talk at 8am Sunday morning -- the eye-opener on the last day.