Category Archives: “The Sharing Economy”

Make Smthng week?

This is MAKE SMTHNG Week, promoted by Greenpeace among others.  This idea combines interest in reducing wasteful consumption and empowerment by Making, and ties it to countering the commercial maelstrom of the holiday shopping season.

In short, they advocate, ‘instead of going shopping, make and do it ourselves.’

I certainly appreciate the value of reducing consumption, and, where it makes sense, reusing and sharing.  And I’m a long time advocate for Making and personal fabrication.  But this project leaves me uneasy for several reasons.

For one thing, while Making is certainly empowering, it isn’t necessarily ecologically sustainable.  Some makers are into reuse and upcycling, but many use non-recycled materials to build what amount to toys. In fact, the whole idea of Making is to create whatever you want, not to reduce consumption.

In short, upcycling is a subset of Making, but you don’t have to be interested in reusing stuff to be a Maker.  For that matter, you don’t have to be a Maker to reduce waste and consumption.

Even more troubling is my observation that many local makers try to make a living from their own DIY creativity.  That is, local cratspeople sell their creations for income. These artisans rely on holiday sales are critical for their livelihood.

So, ‘making smthng’ instead of buying from local makers can be really bad for your local makers, for your local economy, and for the whole planet.

To my mind, “buy smthng local’ is more important that ‘make smthng yourself’.  Not that you can’t do both – though that probably uses more resources.

All that said, I certainly encourage people to learn about reuse, sharing, and recycling. The more you understand where stuff comes from and what your choices are, the better citizen you will be.

By the way, I do like their web page, which invites you to “Start creating…[drag the elements around]”.  That’s kind of cool, though utterly and totally useless and wasteful (because using the internet on a computer or mobile device is horribly, horribly resource intensive.)

(File this under “Bah! Humbug!”)


  1. Greenpeace. MAKE SMTHNG Week 2017, https://www.makesmthng.org/.

 

What is Coworking? It’s More Diverse Than You Might Think

It is frequently observed that Coworking Spaces, like the Tech Industry, seems pretty, well, undiverse.

For example, Lori Kane commented, [4]

it hit me immediately: almost everyone in the space was young and white” (and mostly male). This was “not at all what the walk through the diverse neighborhood primed me to expect.

Similar sentiments have been expressed by many people.

At the same time, coworkers frequently perceive their own workplace to be diverse, and, indeed, the diversity of fellow workers is seen to be one of the principle benefits of a coworking space (e.g., [5, 8, 9]).

What is going on here?


For one thing, there are many different ways to be “diverse”. Kane notices the visible demographics of the space, especially compared to the city around it. Others are more focused on the range professional and technical skills in the room.

A second caveat is that any given coworking space has only so many workers, and generally draws a group “like-minded” workers. But there are many coworking spaces, with different membership, and no single workplace represents all coworking spaces or coworkers.

Atypical Entrepreneurs”

Sean Captain wrote last year in Fast Company about “A Growing Movement Of Coworking Spaces For Atypical Entrepreneurs” [1].  He writes about the emergence of “work spaces with public-service missions”. These operations may be not-for-profit, or for-profit B-corps, and may have a variety of members. The common theme is serving a social mission rather than pure profit.

Captain views this as a “new” trend, but coworking has had this strain of social mission from the beginning (e.g., the Centre for Social Innovation [9], Make Shift Boston [6], or EnSpiral Space [3]). But he does find that this concept is holding its own amid “mainstream, big-city coworking spaces like those in the WeWork empire” and their clones.

Besides a social mission, these spaces are also emphatically local.

Captain quotes Robbie Brown of WELabs [12] (located in Long Beach), “we’re drawing in membership from the community here rather than so much attracting outside folks into the area,” As Kane suggested, the local group is ”less threatening than walking into a coworking space and seeing a bunch of white guys in dress shirts, their faces in computers and typing away.

Captain mentions similarly local work spaces in Raleigh, NC,  Detroit, and other cities.

Again, the emphasis on serving a local community has been a key to coworking from the beginning. Indeed, the gigantic, one-size-fits all WeWork-Seats2Meet-NextSpace style of “consumer coworking” is a recent development. In the beginning, all coworking was “authentic”, local coworking, and there are plenty of locally oriented (but not necessarily social mission oriented) work spaces, such as The Harlem Collective [10], The Shift [11], Nebula [7], or CoHoots [2]).


In addition to demographic diversity (or perhaps, demographic locality), these small, low profit operations generally attract a variety of “non-traditional” businesses. He notes a variety of occupations and businesses, including healthcare, small manufacturing, and community development projects.

Again, these businesses aren’t as new and ground-breaking as Captain seems to believe–there have been similar community development projects for a century or more in most places. But, again, in recent years the big chains and business schools have promulgated a picture of what entrepreneurs are like, and what they do.


Captain does raise the interesting point that the leadership of these social mission spaces isn’t itself particularly diverse. This is embarrassing, smacking of cultural colonization, but also a matter of access to funding and know-how. Obviously, the next wave of “authentic local coworking” must be locally run and led.


My own view is that coworking has never been as homogeneous or, indeed, “corporate” as the business school version.

More important, coworking is all about community, and about the community feeling of comfortable solidarity and mutual support. Large scale operations may offer consistent, low cost services, but no one community “vibe” will please everyone.

If coworking is to persist and grow, it will need to recruit more and more diverse workers. This will require creating and sustaining communities that attract and nurture new workers, including people who do not aim to “move fast and break things”. (“Move steadily forward and fix things together”?)

For this reason, I view the future of coworking as a patchwork of many spaces, each locally led and connected to it’s location. Authentic, home style, workspaces?

“Even more diverse.”


  1. Sean Captain, Inside A Growing Movement Of Coworking Spaces For Atypical Entrepreneurs, in FastCompany – Leadership. 2016. https://www.fastcompany.com/3059990/inside-a-growing-movement-of-co-working-spaces-for-atypical-entrepreneurs
  2. CoHoots. CoHoots Coworking. 2017, http://www.cohoots.info/.
  3. Enspiral. Enspiral Space. 2015, http://www.enspiralspace.co.nz/.
  4. Kane, Lori, Tabitha Borchardt, and Bas de Baar, Reimagination Stations: Creating a Game-Changing In-Home Coworking Space, Lori Kane, 2015. https://books.google.com/books?id=ybFCrgEACAAJ
  5. Liquid Talent, Dude, Where’s My Drone: The future of work and what you can do to prepare for it. 2015. https://www.dropbox.com/s/405kr9keucv97gw/LiquidTalentFoWEbook.pdf?dl=0
  6. Make Shift Boston. Make Shift Boston. 2016, http://makeshiftboston.org/space.
  7. Nebula. Nebula Coworking St. Louis. 2017, https://nebulastl.com/.
  8. Olma, Sebastian, The Serendipity Machine: A Disruptive Business Model for Society 3.0. 2012. https://www.seats2meet.com/downloads/The_Serendipity_Machine.pdf
  9. The Centre for Social Innovation. Culture | The Centre for Social Innovation. 2016, https://socialinnovation.org/culture/.
  10. The Harlem Collective. The Harlem Collective. 2017, http://www.theharlemcollective.co/.
  11. The Shift. The Shift – Home. 2017, http://www.theshiftchicago.com/.
  12. Work Evolution Labs. Work Evolution Labs,. 2017, http://www.workevolution.co/.

 

What is Coworking

Note:  please stay tuned for my new ebook, “What is Coworking”, coming in 2017 Real Soon Now.

What is Coworking? It Can Be A Cutthroat Business

In the last couple of years, a number of coworking operations have developed into large chains, offering consistent service in cities around the world. The biggest of the bunch is probably WeWork, which has attracted headlines with million dollar infusions of capital and splashy openings.

WeWork talks about the sharing economy, and hires “community managers”, and so on, but it is definitely a for-profit operation.

What are they selling? Community.

this is a movement toward humanizing work

they are playing the Facebook game: selling customers to each other, raking off a profit from their donated time and attention.

But dropping 20 billion dollar valuation on these neo-hippies surely has an effect: WeWork appears to trying to monopolize the rental office business, with brutal tactics.

In recent months, there have been many reports of straightforward anticompetitive practices by WeWork, using their bankroll to drive out competitors.

Dateline London: “Coworking space Rainmaking Loft is shutting down in London after WeWork moved in above it

Dateline Brazil: “Desperate Times Call For Desperate Measures: How Low Will WeWork Go?

Dateline: California: “Is WeWork Cannibalizing The Industry With The Classic Bait-And-Switch Tactic?

And so on. There is clearly a deliberate strategy here, though Amador’s question about desperation is a good one. Is this a move from strength or weakness?

Many of these tactics are probably illegal, though I’d be surprised if conservative controlled governments will act. Certainly, in a low margin business like this, competitors will be out of business long before any legal remedy could be found. The coworking industry is going to have to deal with it.

It is certainly the case that any coworking business should not try to compete directly with WeWork. WeWork are selling large scale sites, and a particular brand of coworking that emphasizes low costs and shiny spaces.   If you try to be a WeWork clone, you’ll be out of business—WeWork is cloning itself as fast as it can, and they will be better clones than you. Plus, they have insane amounts of money to burn in the effort.

However, I think it is obvious that there is plenty of room for coworking operations, but they need to aim at different marks than WeWork. I’d recommend going local, ideally with a core of local creative people on board. Be more interesting than WeWork, would be my advice. And that means have more interesting people, and do more interesting things. You can charge for that, and they can’t steal it.

WeWork may or may not get rich from their tactics. Given the low margins in this business, I have to wonder whether they really can wring enough income out of shot term rentals, even if they were to control 100% of the market. They certainly aren’t going to be able to raise rents astronomically, the customers can’t pay.

Personally, I think coworking is like the restaurant business. Sure, there can be huge chains, and then can offer consistent service and a low price. But there will also be local eateries, which thrive by offering something unique and interesting.

The food industry works this way because people have a range of tastes, and want a range of choices. Furthermore, there is no barrier to entering the game. If the only restaurant in town is McDonalds, it isn’t particularly difficult to open your own joint to compete. There are just too many “right ways” to serve food for a monopoly to cover them all.

My own guess is that WeWork will burn through a ton of money, kill off a lot of competing spaces, and create a lot of unhappy customers. Other operations will boot up, many of them advertising that “we are not like WeWork” or “Cwororking the way it was supposed to be”, or even, “we would never lie to you”. And WeWork could be out of business, possibly within a few years from now.

We shall see.


  1. Cecilia Amador, Desperate Times Call For Desperate Measures: How Low Will WeWork Go?, in AllWork. 2017. https://allwork.space/2017/09/desperate-times-call-for-desperate-measures-how-low-will-wework-go/
  2. Cecilia Amador, Is WeWork Cannibalizing The Industry With The Classic Bait-And-Switch Tactic?, in AllWork. 2017. https://allwork.space/2017/10/is-wework-cannibalizing-the-industry-with-the-classic-bait-and-switch-tactic/
  3. Sam Shead, Coworking space Rainmaking Loft is shutting down in London after WeWork moved in above it, in Business Insider – Tech Insider. 2017. http://www.businessinsider.com/rainmaking-loft-is-shutting-down-in-london-because-of-wework-2017-10

 

 

What is Coworking?

 

Note:  please stay tuned for my new ebook, “What is Coworking”, coming in 2017.

Annual report: Freelancing in America 2017

Every year the Freelancers Union*  produces a report on “Freelancing in America”.

This year’s report follows up the 2016 report, asserting that 57.3 million workers are freelancing, including 47% of “millennials” [2].   The total is up from 55 million in 2016 and 54 million in 2015. They project forward from these figures to imagine that freelancers will be more than 50% of workers by 2027.

As in the previous reports, this report defines “freelancer” to be “Individuals who have engaged in supplemental, temporary, project- or contract- based work, within the past 12 months.” [1] However, examining the methodology, these labels are misleading (from [1]):

Diversified Workers (a mix of employment, including freelancing) (35% / 19.8 million)

Independent Contractors (full or part time) (31% of the independent workforce / 17.7 million professionals)

Moonlighters (23% / 13.0 million)

Freelance Business Owners (who define themselves as “freelance workers”) (6% / 3.4 million)

Clearly, the number of freelance workers who have the equivalent to a full time job is much smaller than 57 millions, perhaps 20-30 million depending on how you classify self-employed business owners. (Considering this, the future projection is even less believable.)

I quibble about this point because the report portrays freelancing as the future of work, and paints a rosy picture. However, if the future of work is mainly about underemployment and self-employment, this is not such a rosy picture.

In this survey, the self-identified full time freelancers report an average of 34 hours of work per week [1]. In addition, freelancers report income unpredictability, low savings, and high debt. Many freelancers rely on ACA for health insurance, which is highly uncertain at this time.

In short, freelancers may report high satisfaction, and a determination to never choose conventional employment, the objective measures describe marginal employment, and possibly a race to the bottom.


The 2017 report focuses on several impacts of technology. Obviously, the gig economy is enabled by digital technology, and a majority of freelancers report finding work online.

The report spins freelancing as an adaptation to the “fourth industrial revolution”.

Freelancers report anxiety about AI and robotics displacing them. Nearly half of them say that they have already been affected. Freelancers expect technical change, and upgrade their skills frequently. (Online job services are a good guide to chasing the demand for specific skills.)

It is clear that freelancers are in the front lines of this revolution, though it isn’t clear that they are doing better than other workers, or that freelancing is either necessary or sufficient to survive.


Sara Horowitz demands that we “don’t call it the gig economy”. Nearly half of freelancers prefer to call it “the freelance economy” [3]. That’s fine, and obviously its the Freelancers Union, not the Gig Workers Union. (Though The Gig Workers of the World would be a great name for either a union or a rock band. Slogan: “Gig Strong! Gig power!”)

Look, I’m a member of the FU, and I strongly support the union and stand with my fellow workers (whatever they care to call themselves). One for all, and all for one.

But I can’t let this kind of misuse of data pass without objection.

Freelancing is important, and it is a significant part of the new way of work. But it isn’t reasonable to claim that it is going to be the predominant mode of employment any time soon (if ever). And if it does dominate the economy, it will be an economy characterized by massive under employment, economic insecurity, and poverty.

The whole point of the FU is prevent the last part from coming true. Let’s not lie to ourselves about it.


*Disclosure: I am a proud member of the FU.


  1. Edelman Intellignece, Freelancing in America: 2017. Freelancers Union, 2017. https://www.slideshare.net/upwork/freelancing-in-america-2017/1
  2. Freelancers Union and UpWork, Freelancing in America: 2017. Freelancers Union, 2017. https://s3.amazonaws.com/fuwt-prod-storage/content/FreelancingInAmericaReport-2017.pdf
  3. Sara Horowitz, Freelancing in America 2017, in Freelancers Union Blog. 2017. https://blog.freelancersunion.org/2017/10/17/freelancing-in-america-2017/

 

Seldon on Love and Freelancing

Sensei Tyra Seldon asks, “Can love be the guiding force of your business?” [1]

She had me at “love”.

When we think of passion, compassion, and even love, we may associate these words with romantic or familial relationships. Rarely do we link these terms to business.

The problem is, of course, that we “want to be profitable, but we also want compassion to be a cornerstone of what we do”. This almost always leads to choices, often tough choices.

Practically anybody can make money, but how you make your money and what you compromise to do it are equally as important.

Writing for the Freelancers Union Blog, she points out that this is particularly tough for independent workers, who may not have a business degree or classwork in business ethics for guidance. A gig worker who is learning as she goes has to “be careful because unethical business practices can be subtle.” As she says, a business opportunity, any business opportunity, may be “incongruent” with your own values.

The good news is that an independent worker can walk away. It’s not so easy to quit a job and walk away from a career when a large organization chooses a problematic business. But a freelancer can say “no, thanks” to any job.

The bad news is that not only could you starve to death trying to be ethical, but you are on your own. Working for a large organization is easy, because you can delegate ethics to others. A freelancer has no choice but to choose for himself.

I will say that I consider not having an MBA and training in “business ethics” to actually be beneficial. The very fact that business schools feel a need for a specific course in “ethics” tells you that the rest of the curriculum is not about ethics. As far as I can tell, business school is all about teaching people to ignore normal human ethics in favor of some kind of economic rationalism.

My own view is that there is no such thing as “business ethics”. There are only personal ethics. You have to know your own values, and make your business conform to you. This is not what they teach at business school.

As Sensei Seldon points out,  one of the real advantages of freelancing is that you can say things like:

  • I am in love with my company.
  • I am passionate about sharing my goods and services with the world.
  • I demonstrate compassion when interfacing with my clients.

(See other posts by Seldon on Freelancing here.)


  1. Tyra Seldon, Can love be the guiding force of your business?, in Frrelancers Union – Blog. 2017. https://blog.freelancersunion.org/2017/07/31/can-love-be-the-guiding-force-of-your-business-2/

A Map of the Gig Economy

Speaking of the Gig Economy….

The iLabour Project (“Investigating the Construction of Labour Markets, Institutions and Movements on the Internet”) [3] has begun to try to track workers and work using online job and task services. This isn’t the whole of the Gig Economy, but it certainly is an important sector. Indeed, their data showed a 26% increase between 2015 and 2016—this is why we’re all interested in it!

What does that headline number mean? The data is amassed by retrieving “vacancies” from the most used online job markets. (This is done via a web crawl, so it is snapshots.) When possible, they record the type of work (‘occupation”) and the country where the worker resides. The gigs are “different market mechanisms and contracting styles, from online piecework to hourly freelancing.” [2].

One wonders if Uber and is included in this index? It’s not an open market, but it sure as heck is at the dark heart of the gig economy.

This index is an “indicator”, not an absolute measure. The year to year growth is a growth in…this index. Mainly, this means more “vacancies”, and presumably, more vacancies filled. Given the nature of these platfoms, that could mean more workers, or more work per worker, or both.

The iLabor project produced a supplement that describes the geographic location of the gig workers sampled, and the type of work.

Online Labour Index top occupation by country, 1-6 July 2017

The data confirms our expectations that India and Bangladesh are large sources of labor in these services, though US and UK also supply labor in certain specializations.

This index seems very limited to me. It has nothing to say about many vital aspects of this job market.

There is very little about the employers. There is nothing about outcome: productivity, satisfaction, value added.

As noted, there is little information about the number of workers, the hours per workers, and the income of workers. We are all concerned about the widespread trend toward very low wage piece work, that cannot support the workers.


The Oxford group makes their data available for others to use, which enabled Andrew Karpie to add his own analysis [1].  His analysis shows that “the U.S. and Canada account for over 50% of the global total projects requested”, with the overall finding that “it is clear that online work exchange activity today is largely between the U.S. and certain less-developed Asian countries.

Well duh!

He concludes that “this is likely true for three main reasons: (1) wage arbitrage (frequently), (2) lower transaction costs and (3) supply of skilled labor/talent (with shortages in the U.S.).”

No kidding?

This is not a pretty picture, and I’m always surprised by people who think this “innovation” is even remotely a good idea.

But it’s very good to see some actual data about the gig economy, even if it is limited in so many ways.


  1. Andrew Karpie, Where Are Online Workers Located? — Oxford Internet Institute Tool Breaks it Down, in Spend Matters Network. 2017. https://spendmatters.com/2017/07/13/online-workers-located-oxford-internet-institute-tool-breaks/
  2. Otto Kassi, How the Online Labour Index is constructed, Oxford International Institute, 2016. http://ilabour.oii.ox.ac.uk/how-the-online-labour-index-is-constructed/
  3. Oxford International Institute, Introducing the iLabour Project. 2016. http://ilabour.oii.ox.ac.uk/
  4. Kevin Stark, Oxford Internet Institute Launches Interactive Map of the Global Gig Economy. Sharable.July 27 2017, http://www.shareable.net/blog/oxford-internet-institute-launches-interactive-map-of-the-global-gig-economy

 

 

Seldon on Racial Divide in Freelancing

Tyra Seldon blogs about the racial divide in freelancing.

Studies suggest that there is a racial divide in freelancing, but the larger question is why?

It seems likely that there is a “gap”, even if there isn’t exceptionally solid data. Seldon points to a report from the US Bureau of Labor Statistics, which documents “self employment” statistics for the USA [2]. She notes that this isn’t necessarily the same as “freelancing”, but it does show that blacks are substantially less likely to be “self employed” than whites.

(I note in passing that the BLS counts 15 million self-employed, about 10.1% of the workforce. The Freelancers Union counts 55 million Freelancers, about 35% of workers [1]. The FU gets its larger number because it counts temporary workers, moonlighters, and others that may or may not be counted as self-employed by the BLS.)

The basic “gap” in the BLS data is the finding that roughly twice the percentage of white workers are self-employed compared to black / African American. ([2], p. 6) This difference is a bit larger than the same gap between men and women. We have to be careful here, because this number actually means that of black workers, a smaller proportion are self-employed versus employed by others, compared to white workers.  (What is the “right proportion”?)

I don’t want to belabor the statistics. There is plenty of other evidence of racial disparities in “the new economy”, including the old a “digital divide”, concerns about development of entrepreneurs [3], and observations about coworking communities.

Seldon’s main point is, why would this be?  And what can be done about it?

Seldon  solicited discussion from the support group she moderates. She highlights a comment that lists reasons why a black worker might not freelance.

  1. Lack of Security
  2. Lack of Representation
  3. Lack of Mentors
  4. Stretched too Thin

The first and fourth items are pretty generic challenges that are surely faced by every worker, especially from a poor family.  Freelancing is risky, at least if you have other opportunities.

Items 2 and 3 suggest the important cultural context. If you never meet a Freelancer, never have a strong role model, are not encouraged, then obviously you are less likely to try it. Again, this is a factor for many people, including women, older workers, working mothers, and so on.

Seldon is a passionate advocate for freelancing, and sees it as a vital and booming opportunity. She does not want people to be overlooked and left out “while the economy booms with opportunities”. I’m not so sure about the opportunities, but there is no reason for needless racial, gender or cultural sorting among Freelancers or anyone else.

I will add another point:  one of the strengths of freelancing is networking and collaboration among a community of peers. This works best of all when the pool is both diverse [5] and inclusive of the broader society. Freelancers will produce better work if they are working with a variety of peers.  It’s that simple.

What can be done?

Seldon advocates “radical hospitality” (which is a theme from coworking communities, coliving, and community spaces), mentoring, and general “reaching out”. I agree. Freelancing isn’t all about handling money, contracts, etc. It’s about working together.

 

I note that coworking is successful partly because there is an emerging cadre of effective community leaders who practice and teach “radical hospitality” and community feeling.

Coworking also offers a caution. There are a great variety of coworking spaces, with different communities and cultural vibes. Coworkers self-select a workplace and community that suits them. This has resulted in happy workers, but also workplaces that are not a cross-section of their local community (however you define that).

As Samara Lynn advises, “Black startup owners may also want to search for co-working spaces with multiethnic staff and fellow entrepreneurs.” ([4], p. 38).

This self-segregation is not necessarily a great “solution” to the problem.

Finally, –I say, “get ‘em young”! The best way for people to grow up to be independent workers is for kids to want to be like those people. Freelancers should try to get into school, after school clubs, etc., to teach and practice radical hospitality for all kids.


  1. Freelancers Union, Freelancing in America: 2016. Freelancers Union and Upwork, New York, 2016. https://fu-prod-storage.s3.amazonaws.com/content/None/FreelancinginAmerica2016report.pdf
  2. Steven F. Hipple. and Laurel A. Hammond, Self-employment In The United States. Bureau of Labor Statistics., Washington, DC, 2016. https://pdfs.semanticscholar.org/1571/cf7d653ea85b9d77a305cad3b193ea17b1e6.pdf
  3. Julie S. Hui  and Shelly D. Farnham, Designing for Inclusion: Supporting Gender Diversity in Independent Innovation Teams, in Proceedings of the 19th International Conference on Supporting Group Work. 2016, ACM: Sanibel Island, Florida, USA. p. 71-85. https://northwestern.box.com/s/f1fxpxgmy2hxci1j8duablc7524p0skz
  4. Lynn, Samara, Finding the Perfect Co-working Space. Black Enterprise, 46 (9):58-59, 2016. http://search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&db=a9h&AN=115709004&site=ehost-live
  5. Scott E. Page, The Difference: How the Power of Diversity Creates Better Groups, Firms, Schools, and Societies, Princeton, Princeton University Press, 2007.
  6. Tyra Seldon, Freelancing and the racial divide, in FreelancersUnion Blog. 2017. https://blog.freelancersunion.org/2017/05/25/freelancing-and-the-racial-divide/