= a platform designed to support the sharing economy in a variety of ways.
URL = http://www.peers.org/
"Peers is a grassroots organization to support the sharing economy movement. We believe sharing can be the defining story of the 21st century if we come together to build it.
We started by meeting with small groups of people who share their cars, homes, skills and time. Within a few months, we had meet-ups and house parties happening in cities across the globe, from Boston to Barcelona and San Francisco to Seoul.
We’re launching Peers to provide support and tools for people who want to see the sharing economy thrive. We support the movement in three ways:
- Mainstream the sharing economy: By raising the profile and visibility of sharing.
- Protect the sharing economy: Through policy campaigns for smart regulation.
- Grow the sharing economy: By discovering, joining and using new peer and sharing services.
There’s something powerful when you get car-sharers, bike-sharers, home-sharers, stuff-sharers, peer travel guides, microentreprenuers and other folks in a room together. Magic happens. The Shareable community know that! We want to make more of that happen around the world." (http://www.shareable.net/blog/supporting-the-sharing-economy-a-qa-with-peers-co-founder-natalie-foster)
Cat Johnson interviewed Shelby Clark, the new executive director of Peers (November 2014), to learn more about the vision for the site:
"The new site helps people discover sharing services that their skills, assets and interests align with, beyond giants such as Airbnb, Lyft and Uber. Why is this important? What other types of sharing services does the site connect people with?
This is actually one area that is really exciting and that we got great feedback from in our focus groups over the summer. We met with members in several cities across the US, and spoke with people using the sharing economy as work while in-between jobs. We asked which platforms they were earning on, and heard a lot of "Airbnb" and "Uber," but when we threw out some names of some of the lesser known platforms like DogVacay or Feastly, people were really excited to learn about new ways to earn that they’d never heard of. It just needs to be easier to find out all the ways to earn with what you have, and our Income Discovery tool does just that.
* Another aspect of the site is helping people navigate the legal and financial areas of the sharing economy. This is a timely and potentially very valuable tool. Do you see the site becoming the go-to resource to navigate these issues? What would that look like?
Yes, we absolutely see Peers becoming the go-to resource to navigate these issues. Becoming an independent contractor for the first time is hard enough, let alone in an emerging industry with a constantly changing regulatory environment. And that’s why I have so much respect for workers who are out there figuring it out and making it work for them.
There is a growing community around the sharing economy, of people working in it, people interpreting the laws around it, people collecting data to understand its impact, and people just generally interested in its success as something that can have real, positive social impact. The more we collaborate and share what we learn, the easier we can use that information to make the sharing economy work for us.
* Focus groups with Peers members illustrated that there are numerous challenges to working in the sharing economy. What are some of the biggest challenges sharing solopreneurs face? How will the site help address these challenges?
There are two main messages we heard from our members during the focus groups we ran over the summer. Firstly, we spoke to many who were relying on income from the sharing economy, and they needed help figuring out where to work. There is a lot of marketing material available online, but do we know that people will earn as much as the platforms say they will earn? What are some of the ways to earn that people don’t know about, like cooking meals from their home? People need advice on where to work, and they primarily need it from others who are already doing it, to learn from their experiences.
Secondly, people told us they needed help managing their sharing economy business - tax help, legal help, and support with things like cleaning their homeshare space. There are a lot of services and tools becoming available that are designed specifically for sharing economy workers, but they can be hard to find. Members told us they needed one place to go, where they could see all the help they can get, and that grew into our Support Marketplace.
As you well know, ratings are an essential part of the sharing economy. The new site rates products and services in the sharing economy and also rates the experience of working with them. How do you see this changing the current landscape? What’s your goal for this particular element of the site?
The sharing economy relies on reputation: people are offering things they have outside of the traditional company structure, and so it is others’ ratings of their experience that defines whether or not someone will be a successful worker in the sharing economy. That philosophy goes full-circle: workers rely on the platforms that facilitate sharing economy work, and with new platforms popping up every week, workers have many choices when it comes to which platforms they earn on.
Our goal for the ratings is to make it easy for workers to learn what it’s like to work on a platform before they start working there, so they can decide if it makes sense for their income and lifestyle goals. Naturally, as we get increased transparency, it will be easy to identify issues that are challenging for a majority of workers on one platform, or even across many platforms, and this is an important first step in making changes that are necessary for the sharing economy to work for workers.
* What’s next for you and Peers? What are you most excited about?
I’m an entrepreneur, and I love to build things, so I have to say I’m most excited about creating—and seeing the creation of—products for sharing economy workers that don’t already exist. The Support Marketplace is making that possible at scale for the first time, and I’ve already had many conversations with both companies interested in creating products for sharing economy workers, as well as platforms eager for these products to be made available to the workers using their platform. We’re setting the stage for real, challenging innovation to take place, and that always excites me the most." (http://www.shareable.net/blog/the-new-peers-a-qa-with-shelby-clark)
How will Peers work with similar organizations?
"We love these folks (especially Shareable)! We've learned a lot from the great work they’ve done and we're joining forces with many of them to build this movement together.
We think we can add value to the movement by ensuring Peers is a truly global organization and by creating the tools to help individuals self-organize. In time, we envision that Peers will be a platform for sharers to launch their own campaigns and take on an issue that threatens their ability to share in their community." (http://www.shareable.net/blog/supporting-the-sharing-economy-a-qa-with-peers-co-founder-natalie-foster)
Critique of the business orientation
1. Andrew Leonard:
"The obvious question is, who does Peers represent? Natalie Foster described Peers as a “grassroots organization” aiming “to grow the sharing economy.” But some probing questions from a Bloomberg reporter on the call quickly established that “grassroots” might not be the best word to describe Peers. Foster eventually admitted that Peers was launching with 22 partners, among whom were a number of companies operating in the sharing economy space. Although initially seeming a little reluctant to answer the question of who was paying for Peers, she also eventually acknowledged that the 22 partners were also helping to fund the operation.
Natalie Foster is a veteran of President Obama’s digital team, and has also worked for the Sierra Club and MoveOn.org. So her progressive credentials look pretty solid. But her exchange with the Bloomberg reporter raised more questions than it answered. One of the primary missions of Peers, said Foster, was to help “protect” the sharing economy and advocate for it. For example, Peers might help its members ask the mayor of a city for a bike-sharing program, she said. But at the same time she also stressed explicitly that Peers was not a “lobbying organization.”
I don’t know how one decides when asking a mayor for something is lobbying and when it isn’t, and I really don’t know how the word “grassroots” applies to an organization that is at least partially funded by industry players." (https://www.salon.com/2013/07/31/the_sharing_economy_gets_greedy/)
2. Updated comment by Andrew Leonard:
"Foster says the bulk of Peers’ funding has come from “mission-aligned independent donors” and foundations. Those donors do include investors and executives of sharing economy start-ups, acknowledged Foster. Foster also said the idea for Peers can be traced back to seed money from Airbnb that started a “conversation among stakeholders” at Purpose, an organization that creates “21st century movements.”
Foster would not reveal how much money Peers raised before launch. She stressed that Peers’ goal is “to build a platform for people to self-organize and have their voice heard” on issues that affect the sharing economy, including, specifically, the question of “smart regulation.” Foster said she was pleased that 7,000 people had already registered as members. She emphasized, several times, her personal excitement at the prospect that the sharing economy could make a meaningful difference in people’s lives." (http://www.salon.com/2013/08/02/who_owns_the_sharing_economy/)
3. Tom Slee:
"A grassroots organization with 40 corporate “partners”, with unspecified but significant funding, formed with guidance from a set of high-profile “thought leaders”, without local chapters, and with nothing much for the grassroots to do, but with an Executive Director on day one.
Andrew Leonard from Salon has been following the story, and tells us that funding comes from “mission-aligned independent donors”. So that’s wealthy backers with a financial interest in the sharing economy. This is not grassroots, it’s astroturf.
If there is one thing that makes me angry, it is people appropriating the language of collective and progressive politics for financial gain. And that’s one thread of what’s going on here. As we shall see. It does seem that Executive Director Natalie Foster’s heart is in the right place, but that’s one of the tragedies of the sharing economy: well-intentioned people end up contributing to immiseration and injustice when they think they are doing the opposite.
What we’re not talking about here is venture capital. Going through Crunchbase tells me that the total funding for the 40 partners is over $600M. AirBnB has received $120M, including funding from Andreessen Horowitz, Jeff Bezos, Ashton Kucher. You know, people standing up against entrenched interests.
At the end of this post I’ve added a table of what I could find. It tells us that almost all the funding is going to the Bay Area or New York. The non-profits in this organization are being taken for a ride by the appealing anti-establishment language of Silicon Valley . They need to take a look at who their bedfellows are and what the real agenda is.
Venture Capital funds are not interested in people power, they are interested in an investment with a good return. The fact that Douglas Atkin doesn’t once mention the financial motivations of the forces behind the sharing economy is either dishonest or unbelievably self-deceiving.
The language changes, the mask slips. Participants become customers, sharing becomes buying. The phrase “across verticals” reminds us that Douglas Atkin is an advertising executive. Now the sharing economy is about loyalty programs and cross marketing? Not the kind of sharing I want to be part of. I don’t have a problem with commerce, but what I do object to is commerce wrapped up in, and appropriating, the language of solidarity.
The Peers organization came together, then, in San Francisco and New York – the well-heeled, well-funded districts of the sharing economy movement.
Billion-dollar venture capital funds are out to undercut people who run licensed bed and breakfasts, and he’d have me believe that it’s the B&B owners who are the “entrenched interests”. If this is your idea of a revolution (and it is, unbelievably enough: that comes later) then brother don’t you know, you can count me out.
The laws that he is talking about are licensing laws and other laws put in place to protect employees, customers, and neighbourhoods. These laws are not all perfect. But the sharing economy has nothing to replace them beyond magical thinking about “trust” (with little accountability).
How about banding together to protest when a TaskRabbit customer posts a job to do four loads of laundry and it’s actually 10 or 15 loads covered in cat diarrhea? No: if you do that, you’re fired. The company (a partner of Peers.org, natch) also takes steps to prevent its TaskRabbits from meeting because “They don’t want us unionizing”. I’m sorry, what was that about citizens banding together against companies?
The sharing economy is not an alternative to capitalism, it’s the ultimate end point of capitalism in which we are all reduced to temporary labourers and expected to smile about it because we are interested in the experience not the money. Jobs become “extra money” just like women’s jobs used to be “extra money”, and like those jobs they don’t come with things like insurance protection, job security, benefits – none of that old economy stuff. But hey, you’re not an employee, you’re a micro-entrepreneur. And you’re not doing it for the money, you’re doing it for the experience. We just assume you’re making a living some other way.
The sharing economy is the centralization of global casual labour. Investors invest because individual sharing economy companies have the potential for global reach, collecting a little from each of millions of transactions around the world, and funnelling it to California.
Trashing consumerism appeals to many environmentally-minded, social-justice oriented people. But if you displace taxi drivers and replace them with casual labour, you’re not improving the work/life balance of drivers, you’re making them poorer." (http://tomslee.net/2013/08/why-the-sharing-economy-isnt.html)