To share or not to share? OuiShare..

Increasing activities on p2p networks, enabling people to share their houses, tools, cars and more mark a shift in ownership towards access. While embracing the sustainability aspects, it also is a challenge for governments to adjust their policy to these activities.

Successes in the sharing economy

Amsterdam has got worldwide attention with her quite liberal point of view regarding peer-to-peer rental housing platforms, like Airbnb. The city allows residents to rent out their homes as ‘private rentals’ for a maximum period of two months a year. They’ll have to pay taxes on the income, and tourist tax. Sharing economy, peer-to-peer production, collaborative consumption, different words that are used to describe this kind of new alternative ways of doing business. Airbnb is perhaps the most prominent example of the new business model based on online p2p networks. Within four years Airbnb has built an online platform with more than 600.000 rooms listed. It took Hilton 93 years building up to the same amount of rooms.

Another success that is an example of the sharing economy is Zipcar, the world’s largest car sharing and car club service. It is an alternative to traditional car rental and car ownership. That car sharing is a serious business became clear when Avis bought Zipcar for almost 500 million dollar in 2013. Having visited the BlaBlaCar headquarters in Paris during the OuiShareFest, it is obvious to me that the success in the sharing economy is not only limited to the US, or to be more specific: to the San Francisco Bay Area based initiatives. BlaBlaCar employs about 80 people in this beautiful and luxurious HQ in Paris and has offices in 5 other European cities.

Sharing causes concerns

I was invited to come over to OuiShareFest to talk about Amsterdam as a Sharing City, and the policy of Amsterdam regarding Airbnb appeared to be the talk of the town. With all the recent news on Uber, an on-demand car service that allows you to request private drivers through applications for iPhone and Android devices which was being prohibited in Brussels and Berlin in an attempt to protect the jobs of taxidrivers, the Amsterdam liberal point of view regarding Airbnb was well appreciated by the visitors of OuiShareFest. Many other cities still struggle to deal with the consequences of the successful sharing economy initiatives. Remarkably, it appears to be mostly a concern on a city level, and not on a national level. But when looking closer at the issue it is clear that the sharing economy will especially have an impact within cities, because the high density of people makes it simply easier for peers to exchange initiatives amongst each other in larger cities.

That cities will have to learn how to deal with the consequences of the success of the sharing economy was not always foreseen by many people. Rachel Botsman, global thought leader of the sharing economy (she herself prefers to use the term collaborative economy), mentioned in her presentation that the problem she had, and still has, is to convince people that the sharing economy is more than a temporary, marginal development. She also made clear that the sharing economy has everything to do with a shift in power from top-down, centralized institutions to decentralized, connected communities.

Peer trust

Botsman explains: “The industries that will be disrupted and subsequently transformed are those that have operated for a very long time with layers of the 3 I’s – infrastructure, intermediaries and investment. It is also prevalent in sectors where trust in ‘big’ is broken. Here you see a shift from institutional trust to peer trust, a dynamic that will make the development and meaning of brands in the 21st century fascinating. Many organizations were built upon centralized power, from universities to banks to media companies, controlling not just the capital and ‘goods’ but also the distribution channels. The loss of control over the way money flows, where people can learn and how content can reach the end user is the disruption that is transforming sectors”.

Local scale

But despite the global successes described above, it is fair to say that most initiatives are not challenging the international players in the traditional economy yet. However, on a more modest scale there are numerous promising trends, certainly in Amsterdam and the Netherlands in general. Snappcar, a Dutch car sharing initiative, crowdfunded more than half a million euro last month using the OnePlanetCrowd platform, being one of the most successful crowdfunding operations in the Netherlands so far.

The top-tier American accelerator program Techstars has selected Peerby in 2013 as one of its 11 startups of its first class in London. Peerby is an Amsterdam based startup that operates a peer-to-peer sharing service for products. Users can share or request items, for example tools like a drilling machine, from people in their neighbourhood online. Peerby is active in various international cities and seems to be heading to the position as the largest borrowing platform worldwide.

Several of these Dutch entrepreneurs are members of ShareNL, a foundation that aims at fostering the sharing economy in the Netherlands. More specific: they are determined to have Eberhard van der Laan (the Mayor of Amsterdam) sign a resolution similar to the one signed by the US Conference of Mayors and make Amsterdam Europe’s first Sharing City. According to many thought leaders, like April Rinne who is on the Advisory Board of the Seoul’s Sharing City initiative and is hired by the Seoul city government to speed up things, Amsterdam with her thriving sharing economy and numerous fast growing startups is already in the lead to be the first European Sharing City.

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Afbeelding: © Raymond van Mil. Met dank aan voor het delen van de afbeelding met ons.