The fierce public controversies over iconic players such as Uber and Airbnb have made the 'sharing economy' an increasingly hotly debated phenomenon, with protagonists of unrestrained free-market thinking pitted against interest groups decrying the challenge to their daily bread and butter.
The sharing economy is a groundswell that is disrupting the market served by traditional providers
In a way, however, the sharing economy may be little more than putting old wine in a new bottle. Forget the internet and the sci-fi brand names, and what's left is a basic principle which is not that much different from from that of the medieval 'commons'. At the same time, detached observers have typecast the sharing economy as simply another manifestation of capitalism, noting the 'sharing' players will only share so long as it serves their bottom line to do so.
That said, more and more types of peer-to-peer arrangements are emerging, and the numbers involved are going up and up. Think of short-term accommodation booked via Airbnb, cars borrowed via Drivy (peer-to-peer car rental in France), Ola Cabs, which provides three different tiers of car service to suit different budgets in India, rides arranged via marketplace for city-to-city ride-sharing BlaBlaCar and meals catered via the Cookening 'eat with locals' platform. Add it all up, and the conclusion has to be that nothing short of a revolution has indeed been taking place: very discreetly, and propelled by strong drivers, the sharing economy has been growing alongside the traditional economy. Where are we now, and who will be the winners?