When Tim Berners-Lee invented the World Wide Web in 1989, could he have foreseen how radically it would change our lives? Web 2.0 – a name for all the internet features, websites, and apps that allow users to create, change, and share internet content – has brought about a revolution in (amongst other things) the way our economy works. Like most advances in technology, it brings a new set of words with it, and some of these have recently made their appearance for the first time in the Cambridge dictionary.
You may have used websites or apps like eBay, Uber, and Airbnb. These are all examples of the sharing economy. Their business model is different from the traditional models of the past, including traditional e-commerce: B2B (where businesses sell goods or services to other businesses) or B2C (where they sell directly to customers). Instead, it can be described as C2C. Sharing is probably a misnomer, since in most cases things are being sold rather than shared – just not being sold by a regular company. What has allowed this to happen is the growth of online social networks that link consumers to one other more easily. As a result, someone who has, for example, an unwanted teddy bear to sell can get in touch with someone who needs a teddy bear. Before, these two people would have been unaware of each other’s existence. Another example: I have a car and some spare time. Why don’t I use an app to let people know that I’m available, so that they can get a convenient taxi ride, and I get paid for it? Or why not rent out your spare room to earn some cash by advertising it through an online service?
Of course mobile devices such as tablets and smartphones have made this so much easier and more convenient. And in some cases there has been a change in the type of goods being offered: there has been a move away from physical products (CDs, books) to virtual products (music downloads, e-books). Often this uses the B2C model, but there are other possibilities. Writers can self–publish their books without a publisher; musicians can promote and sell their music online without a record company. And the line between the two can be blurred: Amazon, for example, allow individuals to sell goods, sometimes the same goods as they themselves are selling, through their website.
Other models are closer to actual sharing than the C2C concept. Making content available at no cost to the user is one way (like the BBC); another is collaboration between users to build up the content for all to use (like Wikipedia). Both have their advantages and disadvantages, and we’ll look at these in the next post.