A Role for Online Platforms in the Future Economy

By Anders Fremstad, Ph.D. candidate in economics at the University of Massachusetts Amherst and researcher with E3 Network’s Future Economy Initiative. Anders’ current research focuses on the economics of cooperation and the sharing economy.

The “sharing economy”, which is receiving a lot of attention, is built on a simple technology: online platforms. The internet makes it easier for people to buy a used couch, borrow a power drill, or find a place to spend the night. In economic terms, online platforms reduce the transaction cost of borrowing, lending, buying, selling, and giving stuff. This future economy innovation allows people to better allocate durable goods, so that they flow more freely from people who aren’t using them to people who could put them to use.

There is little data on the economic, social, and environmental impacts of the sharing economy, but established platforms have already transformed the way people consume some goods. Consider Craigslist’s impact on the market for secondhand goods. Craig Newmark first launched Craigslist in San Francisco in 1995, and the website now serves hundreds of locations and the vast majority of Americans. Craigslist changed the way people find jobs and apartments, but its greatest impact has probably on how people buy, sell, and give away used items. Continue reading…