The Blog

Compare and Share: Co-operation or Competition in the Sharing Economy?

The biggest issue in the sharing economy is that posed by legal questions to do with whether an activity counts as a "business" or not.

I've covered the sharing economy before in blog posts and podcasts. It absolutely fascinates me because it's such an emotive subject. The cost savings of using your neighbour's ladder rather than your own are pretty obvious but that's not why people take part in the sharing economy. They do it to reduce landfill, for "neighbourliness", to counter consumerism or just because it's right. It's like ordering tap water for environmental reasons.

Companies in the sharing economy also vary widely. Some, like the mega-successful Airbnb or ParkAtMyHouse are unashamed about the fact that they are businesses like any other and intend to make a buck. Others are charity funded - you can get a good idea about the purpose of sharing site Streetbank from the fact that it is funded by a government "Innovation in giving" initiative.

Yet a week ago, something new launched in the world of sharing. Compare and Share is the first aggregator of the sharing economy - listing rides offered across all car sharing services so that you, the consumer, can choose the cheapest price. There's something that doesn't feel quite right about this. It's like, well, ordering tap water because it's free.

The biggest issue in the sharing economy is that posed by legal questions to do with whether an activity counts as a "business" or not. Nigel Warren in New York was hit with a large fine for using Airbnb and ParkAtMyHouse were pleased to receive the backing of MP Eric Pickles on whether a home owner would need planning permission to rent out their driveway.

All small businesses face another challenge - how to get enough people to their site. "It's a two sided marketplace", says lift sharing site Bla Bla Car's Brand & Content Manager Vanina Schick "we need to connect supply with demand". In order to kick start ride sharing, Bla Bla Car focused on the most popular journeys that people took, rather than trying to cover the whole market.

Wherever there is patchy coverage, aggregating across lots of providers can give better results. Think of searching for that obscure EP on eBay - you only have a chance of finding it because there are so many suppliers. If there are no journeys from Birmingham to Edinburgh on Bla Bla Car, but one on Lift Share, and vice versa for London to Bristol, users will get a much better experience on Compare and Share. A well functioning marketpace will attract more users and shore up the phenomal growth that the sharing economy is undergoing.

"We tend to talk about collaboratition", says Compare and Share founder Benita Matofska. "and I guess what you're seeing is a new mode of working. The sharing economy is fundamentally reshaping business as we know it. In the future businesses will be collaborating with each other much more."

So, phew, we can all relax. It's not about money, it's about sharing sharing.

Zoe Cunningham is shortlisted for the 2013 Women of the Future Awards.

The awards ceremony will take place on Wednesday 13 November and is hosted by Real Business in association with Shell.