Sharing might not be sharing. A major rebuke of the sharing economy kicked off last November with Platform Cooperativism in New York. The event brought together thinkers and builders of a more cooperative internet and was described as taking back the internet by Co-operative News. Since then, a defining factor of whether you see the sharing economy as part of the problem or part of the solution, is whether you see Uber as part of the problem or part of the solution.
Uber embodies inequality according to Platform Cooperativism. Nathan Schneider, a co-organizer of the New York event, is quoted by Co-operative news: “Uber and Airbnb have brought our challenge into stark relief. On the one hand, they’re incredibly convenient and appealing tools that are in some ways tremendous advances on how things were before. However, they have made quite clear that they are not willing to be accountable to the communities in which they operate – to city governments, for one, and to the labour protections that workers have fought for for centuries.”
Others point to Uber as a successful example of the sharing economy. If you check #sharingeconomy on Twitter, you’ll see admiration for Uber with a tweet about Hertz joining forces with Uber. But in the same thread is a Shareable article from last November, comparing Uber to the Death Star.
And the Uber debate has now been taken up at the Stern School at New York University. Professor Arun Sundararajan has written a book questioning status quo sharing economy services. Called The Sharing Economy, Forbes magazine reports the new book has a chapter hypothesizing Uber becoming a co-op. I look forward to reviewing the book in a future blog post.
Beyond New York, Amsterdam is proactively addressing the sharing economy and recently put out an “action plan” for the city. But their plan is challenged by defining the sharing economy and considering equality. An article in Shareable wonders who the sharing economy benefits in the city’s planned initiative. The plan includes Uber as a sharing option: “improving the use of taxi cab capacity via the Uber app.”
Leaders of the November Platform Cooperative conference, Trebor Scholz and Nathan Schneider, continue advancing the conversation. Trebor was recently interviewed for a Shareable article (yes they really cover this stuff) about cities and Platform Cooperativism. Also see Nathan Schneider’s site internetofownership.net for a directory of online cooperative platforms and his great blog with news on technical co-ops.