Denise's thesis | MIT Center for Civic Media

Terminology 101 - A glossary for the sharing economy

No pun intended: I want to share something with you! I've been collecting terms around the peer economy. Stripped down to its core, this work paradigm is essentially about freelancing. It's 1099s, independent contractors and sole proprietors.

Collaborative, sharing, peer, consumption, economy... Those are enough terms to make heads spin. But I put this to you: These are not interchangeable terms. Read on, because I'm going to make my argument in the form of this fledgling glossary.


Image by MarcoD

Among platforms, analysts and consultants:

Science + Crowdfunding: match or no match?

Atray is a medical researcher. I’m a journalist by training with a bent for community. We each have roots in different strands of critical analysis. As roommates, we spent hours discussing science, cultural context and how to measure impact. One topic we often returned to is whether science can fit into a crowdfunding model.


Photo
by Scott Beale

Here’s a glimpse into our conversations, remotely stitched together this summer between Houston, Texas and Brooklyn, New York.

Denise Cheng

Atray Dixit -
A Scientist’s Perspective: The Poor Scientists Cap or New Media’s Funding Magnet?

Operations v. Capital

Collaborative Fund: Marrying venture capital and content strategy

During an entrepreneurial journalism fellowship at CUNY J-School, I met Contently co-founder Shane Snow, who helped to craft the startup's original manifesto: "The delineation between 'media company' and any other enterprise is no longer relevant; we embrace the notion that any entity – brand, nonprofit, news organization, or individual – can be a quality publisher."

Reading notes: The peer economy according to investors, analysts, journalists

Along with interviewing and hanging out in the peer economy, I've been reading voraciously since the beginning of the year. The goal of my thesis research is not to publish another version of existing information but to create information that is useful in the world of practice. To understand the landscape, I've been reading a lot of literature for context. The first wave of publications and output I've explored are by analysts and investors like Rachel Botsman's What's Mine is Yours and Lisa Gansky's The Mesh. Many of their thoughts are echoed by articles in mainstream media beginning to broach the peer economy.


Infographic by Collaborative Fund. Bigger version here.

Skillshare: An opportunity for codesign in the peer economy

Meet Margot Harrington. Five years ago, Margot worked for a design agency. Five years ago, that agency laid off two-thirds of its staff in one day. Margot now stitches together her income via her own design studio and speaking engagements. She moonlights through Aeolidia which always has a few projects for her and helps her stave off the feast-and-famine cycle of freelancing.


Photo by Lucy Hewett

[Pictures] Hanging out with the NYC peers

I recently came across a term, "deep hanging out," as a casual way of describing ethnography. That pretty much sums up my summer in New York City. Thanks for coming along on my summer thesis research; here's a peek at some goings-on and quirks at these fascinating groups!

Anyone who visits Etsy must wear a name tag and list at least one thing they love. Some future possibilities: tupperware, chocolate, neighborhoods, Evernote.

Q: Why bother with emerging economies + narratives of work?

Work is a heartbreaking story, and a confusing one, too. Or at least the most familiar prescription of work in the U.S.

I grew up in Silicon Valley, too young to understand the dot-com bust but old enough to see the sinking morale. Researcher Gina Neff (@ginasue) says, "Economic downturns, company layoffs, booms and busts—these are collective phenomena, but people attribute managing these risks to individual." When my stepfather was ready to retire, he'd chuckle about the raw deal the next generation of workers were getting. This was when employees still expected companies to take care of them somehow. He retired with a pension, but he'd joke, what is this 401k business? I'm a few generations of work later, and I don't even know many young people who have a 401k.

Meet my thesis: Peer economy as an emerging narrative of work

This sums it up perfectly: "Job security is about as real as a free lunch."

With the first year of grad school over, I'm rolling up my sleeves for thesis research. I haven't talked about it much on the Civic blog, but I've been refining my idea since I arrived at MIT: how do narratives of work move into the mainstream, and what is an emerging narrative?

The short of it is this: Since the mid-20th century, we've idolized the full-time, salary + benefits narrative. That's been on the decline for the last 30 years—in entrepreneurship, in number of jobs even though gross domestic product climbs. We're graduating more qualified people into a shrinking job market; this narrative is not realistic anymore, which makes room for new narratives of work to emerge. 

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