Contributor not consumer

Rachel Botsman ( @RachelBotsman) at the British Library today clearly surprised a few old business heads. Some of us will be familiar with many of the examples she mentions as part of her Collaborative Thinking chat, and certainly the trends the examples reflect.  Her contribution is to go far and wide with examples from diverse sectors (travel, automotive, music, convenience) and introducing collaboration as a method to businesses. She is a great speaker deliberately speaking the language of business. (follow twitter chat on #collcons )

One concern I had was that bringing to light of these models and ways of working might help extend the reign of incumbents who really don’t “get it”. Nike’s Run Plus is held up as an example of collaborative consumption and community creation in which buyers are “contributors not consumers”. This, she says, has increased the amount of Nike products the ex-consumers buy. The lesson here to established firms is something like improve your marketing. Other businesses that take collaboration-lite may continue their dominance of markets by carrying out arms-length collaborative marketing excercises. Important to note that at the core of this model, the contributors are contributing to brand, not company, and contributing to shareholder value.

Maybe because many of the organisations Botsman used as examples are relatively new ( TaskRabbit, AirBnB), they have not yet dealt with the next collaboration that needs to happen for a real revolution – Botsman claims that the collaborative consumption model will be a revolution on the scale of the industrial revolution. I asked whether the new collaborative platforms, which apparently refer to users as “members not customers” are also collaborative in their ownership structures – are they including their members in share offerings? For now, said Botsman of the examples she knew, they include members in decision making and in parties they throw, but their funding comes significantly from the usual places – Sequoia in the case of AirBnB ( She did mention growing cooperative movement and the excellent People’s Supermarket @TPSLondon ). So, the collaborators are still creating value for shareholders. (OR is this the point, capital collaborates with people to create conditions in which capital gets what it wants and people get what they want?)

Towards the end Botsman touched on the concern over who owns the social graph and suggests that in future we could have reputational value. Perhaps using this would be a way to include the collaborators in the ownership structure. Afterall, Facebook needs the confluence of a whole lot of dollars and a whole lot of social graphs, so why not value the social graphs as a means to give some form of ownerhsip to ex-consumers. This way they could contribute to shareholders, fellow users and derive their own value from the service.

By the way, I have a copy now of  Whats Mine is Yours – let me know if you want to borrow it.


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