Freemors Blog

Musings of an East Coast Techie

Stop Calling it Sharing

2016-04-09 by Freemor

I'm getting tired of term "Sharing" or "sharing economy" being applied to things that clearly are not sharing. It muddies the waters in discussions of these services, it's more about marketing then the reality of the situation, and frankly it's highly inaccurate.

Sharing is something one does without profit in mind.

  • If I let you borrow my car for free that's sharing. If I charge you for the use of my car, I'm offering a paid service.
  • If I let you stay at my place for free because I have the space, that's sharing. If I charge you it is a service. If we make an arrangement where I stay at your place in exchange that is barter.
  • If I give you half my chocolate bar for free, thats sharing.
  • If I trade you half my chocolate bar for one of your cookies, thats barter

Things like Uber, AirBnB, etc. are not about sharing. There is an exchange of funds involved. The companies provide a service to people how in turn provide a different service to clients.

If you go to Uber's "Drive" page it is quite clear from the wording that this is not about sharing. Phrases like:

"earn what you need"


"we deduct a service fee"

clearly show that this has nothing to do with sharing. So any references to Uber as a sharing service are completely inaccurate. It is a business plain and simple.

So with the "sharing" mystique stripped away it is clear that Uber is just another taxi service and thus should be regulated like any other taxi service.

AirBnB is about the same, their website starts off with:

"Rent unique places to stay from local hosts in 190+ countries." (emphasis mine)

Renting is not sharing. Also the "Hosts" pay a service fee to AirBNB:

"You'll only pay a 3% service fee".

So, once again we have a Company offering a service to people who offer a different service to clients. No Sharing. And with the "Sharing" mystique once again stripped away it's clear that this is just an unregulated hotel service.

So can we please stop referring to companies like this as "sharing" or being part of a "Sharing Economy". The use of that term is nothing but marketing buzz and an attempt to try and duck regulations that are generally there to protect the public.

Now if you take a site like CouchSurfing you'll be looking at something that is about sharing. Accommodations offered for free. No stings attached. No earning or service fees. However the company providing the site is not entirely in the sharing business, from their "Terms of use" we see:

"Couchsurfing may offer the opportunity to purchase products and services from third parties. You acknowledge that such products and services are offered and sold to you by one or more third parties. For more information, please refer to the applicable third party's terms of sale and privacy policy that are presented as part of the checkout process."

So even though CouchSurfing facilitates sharing they are in it to make a buck. They are a business. They are offering a monetized service.

I am in no way disparaging CouchSurfing. Everyone needs to eat. And bravo! they are facilitating actual sharing. Good for them. I'm just saying that their motivations are not entirely selfless.

I am also not saying that there is a dearth of sharing. Certainly the capitalistic society in which we live tries hard to push people away from sharing, as it is bad for their bottom line. Even so, I have seen many people offer public spaces and resources on-line for altruistic and/or selfless reasons.

People who run Tor nodes are sharing their bandwidth and computer resources. The same goes for people running I2P nodes, or people running publicly available nodes or Diaspora pods. There is also the thousands of people that devote their time and energy to creating freely available GPL'd software.

So there is definitely a sharing economy out there. It just isn't the one you hear about. And sadly the "Sharing Economy" that is getting all the press isn't about sharing at all, just more capitalistic endeavours trying to wrap themselves in a palatable and marketable guise.