The Sharing Economy
The age of the revered expert and author as the almighty, pen-wielding warrior delivering information to their passive audience when and how they choose, is over. Long over.
Although we still hold the greatest respect for experts and commentators, access to their ranks is now open to any of us. And the model for sharing information, knowledge and advice is very different to ‘the old days’: we are in what’s called ‘The Sharing Economy’.
Sharing, not just of goods and services through platforms like Airbnb, but of information. Knowledge is in the hands of the masses and the access to technology means that we can all profit from it, should we choose to.
Some say it is a superior way of connecting and learning and offering information for sale — no more well-researched, objective (or opinionated!) messages thrown at the helplessly passive reader. Instead we are all now co-creators — creating with, instead of for our customers, and the model is open for all of us to be a part of.
What Is It?
Theorised by Yochai Benkler, a leading Harvard intellectual of the information age, as ‘Peer Production’, or P2P (peer-to-peer), or by media theorists, Henry Jenkins as ‘Convergence Culture’ this sleek new vessel is a shift in how media platforms are used that is changing the whole landscape and affecting how we get our knowledge – and how we give it.
This platform is, of course, ‘Web 2.0’, a term popularised by Tim O’Reilly that takes the power what we think of as ‘the Internet’ and uses it to enhance information distribution through two-way interactions on wikis, blogs and social networks.
According to Benkler in his 2006 book, The Wealth of Networks: how social production transforms markets and freedom, peer production is:
A new modality of organizing production: radically decentralized, collaborative and non-proprietary; based on sharing resources and outputs among widely distributed, loosely connected individuals who cooperate with each other without relying on either market signals or managerial commands.
To translate: as the cost of collaborating through technology falls to almost zero, together with the enhancements in connectivity, mean that the production of information becomes social. It’s efficient and it’s egalitarian; working outside any traditional old media hierarchy, and relying on individuals ‘gifting’ their knowledge and time to public sites, in return for personal gratification and social connectedness.
Or to translate again, it means we are all happy to share our knowledge freely on the web because it feels good.
What It Means (for you)
As a writer, an expert, or a professional, someone who has spent many years and much investment accumulating expertise and experience, you might be finding this interesting, but not that relevant to what you do.
The complex language, the ‘digital speak’, that can make the peer production movement seem like the domain of a tech head is a disguise. The opposite is true — for us ‘brain heads’, the best part of the ‘sharing economy’ is actually the accessibility of the technology: it no longer requires IT qualifications, or complex equipment, we can all be part of it with just a few clicks on our smartphone.
Peer production is essentially just collaborative knowledge, and there are lots of ways that you can (and should) get involved. Ways that will benefit your business and brand, while simultaneously sharing your expertise more widely. And even though the latter may be done without a financial transaction, it can bring both personal and social reward. At least one circle of our civic society is now on the internet and we are part of it whether we like it or not.
How To Take Charge Of It
When it comes to the high visibility of the digital age, everything you do when you step onto the stage of the World Wide Web, you do as an ambassador for your own brand.
And the old-school one-to-many approach of marketing by sending out passive messages is no longer working; your audience is not passive, they are out there contributing, sharing, socialising, and even adding their own iteration of your creation.
You may as well join ’em!
Sharing your knowledge online is an essential part of building your personal and your brand authority, and creating a digital footprint that leads right to your digital door.
It can be as simple as using social media – this article from Forbes makes a strong argument for encouraging employees to use social media. Rather than banning access to social media, as many companies do, perhaps it can be a mechanism to enhance brand reputation (as well as employee satisfaction).
Contributing to wikis or forums in your area of expertise, starting conversations on topics that you think people should be talking about, and guest posting on other peoples websites is a great way to help others and help yourself. This article on Duct Tape Marketing points out that you must first contribute because people are less interested in what you have to say when they don’t know you.
Crowd-source Your Writing
Whether you are writing fiction or non-fiction, using the power of the peer network can help you write a better book.
A striking example in the fiction world is the success of 50 Shades of Grey. What started out as Twilight fan fiction, something that we could box into the realm of weird obsessions from overlay attentive readers,has become a worldwide phenomenon, both as a book and as a film.
And for non-fiction, what better way to source your content than collecting feedback online from your facebook fans, or twitter followers? What could be better than posing questions that readers want to know the answers to, and taking the time to find out what concerns and desires they have by creating a digital relationship based on mutual collaboration and shared knowledge. You will write, confident that your book has a market and that you know how to reach people with the content then want to read.
Many Hands Make Light Work (of publishing)
And it’s not just about collaborative writing.
Once up on a time being an author could be a lonesome task – have an idea, send it to one person, receive feedback, send it to another, receive feedback, edit the original idea and perhaps, eventually, start work on the book.
But with the one to many and many to one platform of the internet, all this has changed. Technology, often seen as an isolating force, is actually extremely successful at bringing some of the greatest minds together to work on the hardest tasks.
‘Hackathons’ have been around in the tech world since 1999, the idea simply being, put a bunch of coders, engineers and techies into a room and supply them with caffeine, food, and stimulation for their mind, and set them all to the same task.
Whether the task was working on a specific programming problem or simply to generate innovative ideas, bringing together a group means that the work gets done in the room.
It is a win-win situation — the company or person hosting the hackathon (usually) owns the ideas developed on the day and, hopefully, solves the problem they came with. Meanwhile, for the hackers, hackathons are a great place to network and make new business connections, creatively collaborate and absorb a wider range of ideas, and put their knowledge and skills to the test while working on a higher task.
As Benkler argues, it is a way of sharing knowledge that works outside of usual top down business structures, opening up the process of knowledge-gathering to a wider audience then every before.
But don’t make the mistake of thinking that hackathons belong on the domain of tech companies only: in 2013, the first-ever publishing hackathon was held in midtown Manhattan.
The aim was to develop 30 submissions on how to best enable readers from a cross-sections of interests to make connections with publishers or writers who were a good fit for their interests — based on a variety of criteria, including the social media pages, current subscriptions and browsing history.
Create Your Own?
The idea behind a hackathon can be applied to any company, or individual, or single problem in any area of work. As long as you are searching for innovation or creativity, you can take the model and apply it to your own project.
As a writer, or owner of small business, collaborative problem-solving could be an endless source of innovation and resources: instead of researching writing, marketing, publishing, blogging and social media ideas, why not bring a group of experts together and watch them sharpen their skills on your company? Be open to whatever emerges and you might have the next great idea.
It may sound corny, but with so many things offered by new technologies, enhanced connectivity and collaborative approaches, the only thing holding you back is, truly, your imagination.