The definitional domain of the sharing economy is quite perplexing. The major problem is that neither scholarly nor practice literature follows a consistent theoretical paradigm when referring to the sharing economy, identifying its platforms, and distinguishing them from other platforms. When the literature defines sharing platforms, it often refers to multiple meanings and manifestations of sharing – encompassing simple acts of communication, participation, and collaboration as well as more complex interactions. The digital sharing economy (DSE) is a particular perspective that explains the phenomenon of platform-enabled sharing through digitalization (Pouri and Hilty, 2021). It is primarily characterized as a resource allocation system in the very economic (rather than the purely social) sense of the term. Its theoretical realm exceeds traditional sharing but falls short of the formality of conventional marketplaces. The DSE has a clear theoretical domain that delineates its distinctive characteristics. Platforms whose services involve ownership transfer activities – namely, purchasing, redistributing, bartering, donating, and crowdfunding – are excluded from the DSE. In essence, the DSE is about allocating resources, not distributing them. The former refers to efficiency while the latter conveys equal access and fairness (Daly, 1992). Allocation means that people make (rational) choices with their resources and interact with others while making these choices. To illustrate, people who partake in sharing communities such as CouchSurfing, BlablaCar, or Peerby allocate their homes, car seats, and household tools to others; they do not distribute these resources among others with the aim of providing them with equal access to what they have. Applying this criterion, collaborative online encyclopedias such as Wikipedia, platforms for open source repositories such as Github, content/video sharing sites such as YouTube, and other platforms that do not involve some sort of allocation mechanism in granting access are excluded from the DSE. In addition, seen through the lens of the DSE, social networks – Instagram, Facebook, Twitter and the like – are not considered to be sharing economy platforms because interactions on these networks do not target a need for a specific resource that is to be met by connecting a member as the provider to another member as the user of that resource. Acts of sharing become meaningful when there is a need for a specific resource and that need is fulfilled via sharing the resource. This logic does not apply to social network interactions. In fact, they are better mapped to sharing in the sense of “participating” in social media and “communicating” seamlessly via digital technology. Regarding the upper extreme of the DSE’s spectrum, its vast variation of systems does not reach the formality of conventional markets and their regulations, such as labor protection and employment legislations. The DSE’s area of operation is not formal. Hence, it does not create jobs in its peer-to-peer models, nor does it employ its participants, including freelancing, although it can generate supplemental earnings. In theory, sharing is detached from formal economies and their fully regulated marketplaces.
Pouri, Maria Joan, "What is and is not the Digital Sharing Economy?" (2022). PACIS 2022 Proceedings. 297.
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