Collaborative is the new black

Last week I had the opportunity to speak about Net Neutrality at two separate events organised for and around internet start-ups. The first was an informal gathering organised by the recently founded France Digitale, a structure devoted to carrying the voice of internet entrepreneurs to the French government (who seems to rarely understand the specifics of start-ups). The second was a broader and more formal event called Web2Day. It’s an annual gathering in Nantes, and even though I only really had half a day there, I loved every bit of it and will undoubtedly attend again.

Of particular interest to me was a panel on the collaborative economy, a euphemism for all those disruptive business models (from project financing to accomodation  booking) that circumvent the established aggregation structures like banks and hotel chains to address the end-user directly. I’m fascinated by the potential of these initiatives. On the panel in particular were Kiss Kiss Bank Bank and AirBnB, two emblematic examples of such collaborative initiatives.

The potential for disruption of these initiatives is hard to assess. Of course, they themselves think they are changing the world, and maybe they are, but at the same time they’re careful to stress that by and large they are not displacing existing business models as much as complimenting them (for example AirBnB insisted that the places where they see the most supply and demand are places where there’s very little accomodation to be found anyway because these places are saturated with demand.) At first I thought that was naïve or disingeneous, but at the same time I can’t really figure out how these currently grassroots initiatives may grow in the future.

A point about the disintermediation that I found interesting was the element of trust. Kiss Kiss Bank Bank for example insisted on the fact that very few of the projects the platform finances result in crooks taking the money and bailing, simply because most of the financing comes from people who know the entrepreneur personally. The interpersonal trust is an additional layer of stability into the system.

All this connects with the work of two of my favourite people: Robin Chase and her various carsharing endeavours, and Doc Searls and his Vendor Relationship Management approach. In fact, the latter is why The Intention Economy: When Customers Take Charge is on my to read list. I’ll tell you about it once I’ve read it.