Sharing Economy Platforms and Reciprocity: A Controversial Relation

Wednesday, 18 July 2018: 15:30
Oral Presentation
Alberta ANDREOTTI, University of Milan-Bicocca, Italy
Guido ANSELMI, University of Milan-Bicocca, Italy
Christian HOFFMANN, University of Lipsia, Germany
Major services currently dominating the ‘Sharing Economy’ are based on online platforms employing reputational algorithms to facilitate user interactions. These reputation algorithms contribute to building relations and interconnectedness among users, as they can provide a modicum of ‘trust between strangers’ (Botsman and Rogers 2010), signaling potentially unpleasant interactions. However, it remains unclear whether relations facilitated by reputational algorithms can evolve into long term reciprocal relations, able to improve the emotional wellbeing of users, to provide stable support networks and, eventually, nurture a feeling of community on the sharing platform.

Sociological literature provides conflicting accounts: on the one hand, empirical studies on the early stage of sharing platforms (Botsman Rogers 2010, Parigi State 2014) have outlined how sharing activities may help users to build reciprocal relations. On the other hand, contemporary sharing platforms have become increasingly professionalized and ‘mainstreamed’: operated by ‘unicorn’ corporations, accessed through mobile apps and staffed by semi-professional ‘gig-workers’ (Schor and Atwood-Charles 2016, Scholz 2017). Moreover, even in the case of more community-minded platforms, such as car-sharing ventures, users are often unable or unwilling to interact with other sharers (Bardhi and Eckhart 2012, Belk 2014), opting instead to access the service on a pure rational-economic basis.

Based on a statistical representative sample of 1699 different platform users in several European countries, this contribution investigates whether, and to what extent exchanges on online sharing platforms are mediated through reputational systems and create new long-lasting and trustful relations. Our results seem to point to few trustful relations and little reciprocity. To explain how everyday use of sharing platforms (and connected mobile apps) may inhibit the creation of reciprocal ties, we will also draw on focus group results with users of sharing platforms. The survey and focus groups have been carried out within the EU Horizon 2020 European project PS2share: https://www.bi.edu/research/find-departments-and-research-centres/research-centres/h2020/.