Synthetic Overview of the Collaborative Economy

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* Report: A Synthetic Overview of the Collaborative Economy. By Michel Bauwens, Nicolas Mendoza and Franco Iacomella, et al. Orange Labs and P2P Foundation, 2012.


With support from: James Burke, Chris Pinchen, Antonin Léonard, Edwin Mootoosamy

Table of Contents


Chapter One: When the Vertical Meets the Horizontal

I. The New Horizontality and Diagonality

II. The Emerging Logic Of Horizontal Intermediation

III. New Conceptualizations of Business Practice

IV. Some Important Clarifications

V. The Emerging Logic of Open Business Models

VI. New Distributed Infrastructures For Material Production

VII. Understanding the Ladder of Participation

VIII. A First Categorization of the Collaborative Economy

Chapter Two: Discovering the User as Value Creator and the Emergence of a UserCentric Ecosystem

I. The Evolution of Productive Publics

II. The Emergence of Lead Users

III. Opening Innovation to the Input of the Crowd

IV. The User-Generated Ecosystem

Chapter Three: Infrastructures for ‘Sourcing the Crowd’ and Mutualizing Idle Resources

I. Crowdsourcing

II. The Emergence of Collaborative Consumption

Chapter Four: Beyond Corporate Open Innovation: Commons-Oriented Peer Production

I. Defining P2P

II. Pure Play Vs. Hybrid Peer Production

III. The Dual Logic of Peer Production in a Market Economy

IV. The Characteristics of Peer Production

V. Cultural and Social Penetration of Peer Production in Society

VI. Business Penetration

VII. The Institutional Ecology of Commons-Based Peer Production

VIII. Peer Production in Free and Open Source Software

IX. Peer Production in Design, Hardware, and Manufacturing

X. Open Hardware as a Social Movement

XI. Maps, A Series of Mind-maps created by P2P Foundation

Chapter Five: Distributed Access to the Factors of Production

I. The Emergence of an Infrastructure for ‘Personal’ Manufacturing

II. Distributed Workspaces and Meeting Venues

III. The Emergence of Distributed Funding

IV. The Emergence of Infrastructures for “All Things Distributed”

V. Some Conclusions and Speculations

Chapter Six: Open Business Models

I. Generalities on Open Business Models

II. Open Source Software Business Models

III. Open Source Hardware Business Models

IV. The Economics of Shared Spaces



"The theme of the following work is the horizontalisation of productive human relationships that has been enabled through communication networks and in particular the Internet. These productive publics can generate their own practices and institutions through bottom-up dynamics, or they can be mobilized by existing institutions. Hence the emergence of the collaborative economy, which comes with many names and with different expressions, such as commons-based peer production (Yochai Benkler), wikinomics (Don Tapscott), crowdsourcing (Jeff Howe), open innovation (Henry Chesbrough), collaborative consumption (Rachel Botsman), and quite a few others. Different authors have mapped the outlines of those particular expressions of the collaborative economy, but we believe that an overall synthesis was still lacking. While a full account would be a tremendous undertaking, we do believe that the following work captures the essence of developments in this field, which represent a deep transformation of economic practices.

Two main agents of transformation guide this work. One is the emergence of community dynamics as an essential ingredient of doing business. It is no longer a matter of autonomous and separated corporations marketing to essentially isolated consumers, it is now a matter of deeply inter-networked economic actors involved in vocal and productive communities. The second is that the combined effect of digital reproduction and the increasingly 'socialized' production of value, makes the individual and corporate privatization of 'intellectual' property if not untenable, then certainly more difficult , and in all likelihood, ultimately unproductive. Hence the combined development of community-oriented and 'open' business models, which rely on more 'social' forms of intellectual property.

In this work, we therefore look at community dynamics that are mobilized by traditional actors (open innovation, crowdsourcing), and new models where the community's value creation is at its core (the free software, shared design and open hardware models). We then look at monetization in the absence of private IP. Linked to these developments are the emergence of distributed physical infrastructures, where the evolution of the networked computer is mirrored in the development of networked production and even financing. Indeed the mutualization of knowledge goes hand in hand with the mutualization of physical infrastructures, such as collaborative consumption and peer to peer marketplaces, used to mobilize idle resources and assets more effectively.

This work is of course indebted to those who have described, analyzed and mapped its various expressions separately, and we have used their work to form our own synthesis. Amongst the works we have used more particularly are We Think, by Charles Leadbeater, What's Mine is Yours, by Rachel Botsman, and Getting Results from Crowds, from Ross Dawson. Others have written synthetic essays that were just as crucial in mapping out particular fields or particular aspects. We cannot mention them all separately here, but they are all referenced throughout the text.

This project was undertaken by Michel Bauwens as lead researcher, but was truly a team effort. The P2P Foundation team consisted of Nicolás Mendoza (Colombia) and Franco Iacomella (Argentina), with further assistance from James Burke (Netherlands) and Chris Pinchen (UK). We developed a Case Study appendix focused in France with help from Antonin Léonard and Edwin Mootoosamy. We also had a secret weapon, Valerie Peugeot of Orange, which played a tremendously active role in guiding, correcting and suggesting avenues for our research. She was truly an extra member of the team, operating as a peer, and not just as a client.

We thank Orange Research for ordering and funding this synthetic overview of the collaborative economy.

This report is comprehensive and very dense with information and analysis. At the same time this is a continuously evolving and very complex field of emergence, and as such, the study is just one step in comprehending an evolving social and technological transition. What we hope is that this is therefore also a good stepping stone for further research efforts."

The Motivation for this Study

By Orange Labs:

"Within the Social and Human Sciences Lab of Orange R&D, the Research Object Futurology is in charge of detecting and analyzing changes in northern and southern societies – whether their sources are of economical, cultural, technical or social nature – that could impact the Telecom ecosystem, in the mid and long term.

Collaborative Economy: a major trend in the informational society

At the heart of our economies, a diversification and increasing importance of collaborative practices can be observed. By proposing alternative paths of value creation and sharing, these practices open new perspectives in terms of consumption, production and innovation models.

Still on the edge of the core activities of a Telco, they could day after day interfere more with our R&D methodologies, our relationships towards consumers - creators communities, our capacities to take advantage of innovations…

The players of this emerging collaborative economy are diverse: their objectives, attitudes towards collaboration and sharing, their methods of work as well as their business models are heterogeneous. Consequently, it seemed essential to us to have a mapping of those actors and their initiatives. We have asked the P2P foundation to take the task for elaborating this cartography. Being both at the same time a long time observer and a promoter of these new practices, the Foundation provides us through this report a perception “from the inside” of the collaborative economy.

6We would like to thank here all the team of the Foundation, and in particular Michel Bauwens its senior researcher, for their commitment in this project and for the quality of this report. Being as comprehensive as possible, it provides useful elements to structure this complex and rich world and highlights possible opportunities for an operator. It should be a precious tool for the continuation of our works.