Tag Archives: Claire Marshall

More on Wood Wide Web

Plant communications is one of the coolest things in contemporary biology.   All  animal life depends on plants, of course, but plants also turn out to have complex social systems and even intelligence of a non-human sort.  It’s hard for us to understand because, compared to plants, we are “hasty” (as Tolkien so memorably put it.)

In the last twenty years, it has become clear that a forest is not a bunch of trees, but complex network more like a city.  Furthermore, not only the trees, but also the microbes and fungi are part of this amazing communication and transport system.

Researchers from British Colombia have tagged this the “Wood wide web”, which is certainly catchy if not entirely apt.

This summer, an international team report on a global map of forest symbiotes, i.e., the fungal ecology under the ground of forests around the planet [2].  Different trees need different fungi, so a map of the fungi is also a map of the kinds of trees there.

The study finds that there are two major types of microbial symbionts (and therefore, trees), ectomycorrhizal and arbuscular mycorrhizal.  The two different types appear adapted to different climactic conditions. (Actually they found five important classes, but the top two predominate.)

[Caveat:  my grasp of these microbial species is limited, so some of my coments may be confused or confusing.  Please refer to the paper for a full and correct explanation of the findings.]

Ectomycorrhizal trees live in dry high latitudes (places with winter), where decomposition is inhibited in some seasons. arbuscular mycorrhizal trees live in warm wet a seasonal areas (tropics), where decomposition is continuous.  This is visible in the rather clear geographic delineation of areas on the map:  the climate drives the microbes, which determine which trees will thrive where.

Underlying this all is the relationship between the microbial world and trees.  The underground microbes deliver nutrients to the forest, and in exchange, trees deliver sugar (a lot of Carbon!) and other products of photosynthesis to the microbes.  Ectomycorrhizal fungi decompose leaf litter and other materisal deliver Phosphorous and Nitrogen from soils to trees.  Arbuscular mycorrhizal transport Phosphorous from minerals (not depending on decomposition).

Using data from the Global Forest Biodiversity Initiative database, to assemble a map of the types of trees from 1 million recorded locations. The research mapped these species to their known microbial symbiotes, to infer a map of the symbiotes.  The symbiotes were classified into five main groups, which they term “tree symbiotic guilds”.

This dataset was used to investigate correlations of climate soil, topography, estimated decomposition rates, and other variables with these guilds. The data suggest that there is a positive feedback between climate and decomposition, which cause sharp transitions in the cost benefits and efficiency of the different symbiotes.

“The abrupt transitions that we detected between forest symbiotic states along environmental gradients suggest that positive feedback effects may exist between climatic and biological controls of decomposition” ([2], p. 408)

One implication of this hypothesis is that relatively small, gradual changes in climate will lead to rapid changes in the symbiotes and the trees above.  They report simulations of future climate (circa 2070) which predict that the relatively small climate change could result in a 10% decline of ectomycorrhizal trees, which will be replaced with others.

However, the study suggests the close links between the atmosphere, soil, and plant life.

“our finding that climatic controls of decom- position are the best predictors of dominant mycorrhizal associations provides a mechanistic link between symbiont physiology and climatic controls on the release of soil nutrients from leaf litter.” ([2], p. 407)

This hypothesized turnover is potentially important because the ectomycorrhizal fungi are prodigious collectors of Carbon, while arbuscular mycorrhizal release Carbon into the atmosphere.  A large change over from the former to the latter would mean that less CO2 would be equestered by the forests, further accelerating changes to the atmosphere through a positive feedback.

  1. Claire Marshall, Wood wide web: Trees’ social networks are mapped, in BBC News – Science & Environment. 2019. https://www.bbc.com/news/science-environment-48257315
  2. B. S. Steidinger, T. W. Crowther, J. Liang, M. E. Van Nuland, G. D. A. Werner, P. B. Reich, G. Nabuurs, S. de-Miguel, M. Zhou, N. Picard, B. Herault, X. Zhao, C. Zhang, D. Routh, K. G. Peay, Meinrad Abegg, C.  Yves Adou Yao, Giorgio Alberti, Angelica Almeyda Zambrano, Esteban Alvarez-Davila, Patricia Alvarez-Loayza, Luciana F. Alves, Christian Ammer, Clara Antón-Fernández, Alejandro Araujo-Murakami, Luzmila Arroyo, Valerio Avitabile, Gerardo Aymard, Timothy Baker, Radomir Bałazy, Olaf Banki, Jorcely Barroso, Meredith Bastian, Jean-Francois Bastin, Luca Birigazzi, Philippe Birnbaum, Robert Bitariho, Pascal Boeckx, Frans Bongers, Olivier Bouriaud, Pedro H  S Brancalion, Susanne Brandl, Francis Q. Brearley, Roel Brienen, Eben Broadbent, Helge Bruelheide, Filippo Bussotti, Roberto Cazzolla Gatti, Ricardo Cesar, Goran Cesljar, Robin Chazdon, Han Y. H. Chen, Chelsea Chisholm, Emil Cienciala, Connie J. Clark, David Clark, Gabriel Colletta, Richard Condit, David Coomes, Fernando Cornejo Valverde, Jose J. Corral-Rivas, Philip Crim, Jonathan Cumming, Selvadurai Dayanandan, André L. de Gasper, Mathieu Decuyper, Géraldine Derroire, Ben DeVries, Ilija Djordjevic, Amaral Iêda, Aurélie Dourdain, Nestor Laurier Engone Obiang, Brian Enquist, Teresa Eyre, Adandé Belarmain Fandohan, Tom M. Fayle, Ted R. Feldpausch, Leena Finér, Markus Fischer, Christine Fletcher, Jonas Fridman, Lorenzo Frizzera, Javier G. P. Gamarra, Damiano Gianelle, Henry B. Glick, David Harris, Andrew Hector, Andreas Hemp, Geerten Hengeveld, John Herbohn, Martin Herold, Annika Hillers, Eurídice N. Honorio Coronado, Markus Huber, Cang Hui, Hyunkook Cho, Thomas Ibanez, Ilbin Jung, Nobuo Imai, Andrzej M. Jagodzinski, Bogdan Jaroszewicz, Vivian Johannsen, Carlos A. Joly, Tommaso Jucker, Viktor Karminov, Kuswata Kartawinata, Elizabeth Kearsley, David Kenfack, Deborah Kennard, Sebastian Kepfer-Rojas, Gunnar Keppel, Mohammed Latif Khan, Timothy Killeen, Hyun Seok Kim, Kanehiro Kitayama, Michael Köhl, Henn Korjus, Florian Kraxner, Diana Laarmann, Mait Lang, Simon Lewis, Huicui Lu, Natalia Lukina, Brian Maitner, Yadvinder Malhi, Eric Marcon, Beatriz Schwantes Marimon, Ben Hur Marimon-Junior, Andrew Robert Marshall, Emanuel Martin, Olga Martynenko, Jorge A. Meave, Omar Melo-Cruz, Casimiro Mendoza, Cory Merow, Abel Monteagudo Mendoza, Vanessa Moreno, Sharif A. Mukul, Philip Mundhenk, Maria G. Nava-Miranda, David Neill, Victor Neldner, Radovan Nevenic, Michael Ngugi, Pascal Niklaus, Jacek Oleksyn, Petr Ontikov, Edgar Ortiz-Malavasi, Yude Pan, Alain Paquette, Alexander Parada-Gutierrez, Elena Parfenova, Minjee Park, Marc Parren, Narayanaswamy Parthasarathy, Pablo L. Peri, Sebastian Pfautsch, Oliver Phillips, Maria Teresa Piedade, Daniel Piotto, Nigel C. A. Pitman, Irina Polo, Lourens Poorter, Axel Dalberg Poulsen, John R. Poulsen, Hans Pretzsch, Freddy Ramirez Arevalo, Zorayda Restrepo-Correa, Mirco Rodeghiero, Samir Rolim, Anand Roopsind, Francesco Rovero, Ervan Rutishauser, Purabi Saikia, Philippe Saner, Peter Schall, Mart-Jan Schelhaas, Dmitry Schepaschenko, Michael Scherer-Lorenzen, Bernhard Schmid, Jochen Schöngart, Eric Searle, Vladimír Seben, Josep M. Serra-Diaz, Christian Salas-Eljatib, Douglas Sheil, Anatoly Shvidenko, Javier Silva-Espejo, Marcos Silveira, James Singh, Plinio Sist, Ferry Slik, Bonaventure Sonké, Alexandre F. Souza, Krzysztof Stereńczak, Jens-Christian Svenning, Miroslav Svoboda, Natalia Targhetta, Nadja Tchebakova, Hans ter Steege, Raquel Thomas, Elena Tikhonova, Peter Umunay, Vladimir Usoltsev, Fernando Valladares, Fons van der Plas, Tran Van Do, Rodolfo Vasquez Martinez, Hans Verbeeck, Helder Viana, Simone Vieira, Klaus von Gadow, Hua-Feng Wang, James Watson, Bertil Westerlund, Susan Wiser, Florian Wittmann, Verginia Wortel, Roderick Zagt, Tomasz Zawila-Niedzwiecki, Zhi-Xin Zhu, Irie Casimir Zo-Bi and Gfbi consortium, Climatic controls of decomposition drive the global biogeography of forest-tree symbioses. Nature, 569 (7756):404-408, 2019/05/01 2019. https://doi.org/10.1038/s41586-019-1128-0

2016 Roundup and Books Reviewed in 2016

In 2016, this blog passed the milestone of posting at least once per day for1,000 days in a row! January 5 will mark three years of daily posts to this blog.

My blog may not be great, but it is consistent!  Or at least persistent.

Regular readers know that this blog is somewhat random, touching on any topic I find interesting enough or have something to say about. But some topics were visited more than once.

This year saw many posts on coworking and similar “co” movements (cohousing, platform cooperatives, the future of work, the sharing economy, etc.)

These posts give you a preview of a new book that is in preparation, titled, “What is coworking?” It should be available in early 2017. I.e, Real Soon Now.

I posted nearly weekly about cryptocurrencies, blockchain technology, and the communities that have risen around these technologies.

Cryptocurrency and blockchain technology has so many perspectives, it is hard ot keep track, but some of the topics overlap with coworking, the sharing economy, and similar “bottom up” movements.

Reflecting earlier research, I have also posted frequently about HCI, particularly wearables, and haptics. I know quite a bit about these topics, though the most important thing is that no one really knows how to use them well.

I posted nearly weekly about robots and bio-inspired design. Robots are really cool, though in this area I am just an enthusiast, not an expert.

Other general science-y topics have included dinosaurs (naturally) and animal intelligence. I have also posted frequently about space exploration and remote sensing of the environment especially observing the retreat of the ice.

I should note that I had been posting comments on items picked up from Wired magazine on line. In fact, I was reading Wired so regularly, I was just about to subscribe. But then they decided to close off access to me unless I accept their advertising or pay $1 per article. I might have subscribed to this deal, were it not for the fact that even the “ad free” option still wanted to aggressively track me. So I stopped reading Wired.

You know what? I never even noticed it was gone.

I think you miscalculated, Wired

On a less contentious topic. Following Sensei Dave Barry, I suggested a number of names for rock bands based on current topics and reading.

I suggested some band names with cryptcurrency themed names, including “Fintech”, and “Hard Fork” (not to be mistaken for “Haardvark”, which I have actually heard of.)

Other nerdy names might be Feather Evolutionor the Saturn themed “First Ring Grazing Plunge

Books Reviewed

As always, I posted short book reviews every week. In case it isn’t clear, these are all books I read this year.

In total, I wrote about 100 books (a happy milestone, purely by luck). The majority of the books are relatively recent, and, with only a few exceptions are recommended.

But if I had to pick a few “best” books, I would say:

Best Fiction: Stiletto by Daniel O’Malley

 An eagerly awaited sequel to the The Rook (2012), this is easily one of the most enjoyable and imaginative fantasies of the year.

Best Non-fiction: The Euro by Joseph Stiglitz

A timely and riveting explanation of what went wrong in the Eurozone, and what might be done to salvage the situation. Considering the subject matter, I was expecting difficult and obtuse reading. Instead, I found it clear and easy to understand, if hard to swallow.

Walking the Walk:  How to Make Money (and a whole lot more) by Sharing by Claire Marshall

In a totally category, “walking the walk”, there are quite a few  important books about how to live right, but  the 2016 nod must got to Sensei Claire Marshall.  Actually living for a month in “the sharing economy”, and now teaching that “we are happiest when we share”.

Other notable reads

I read new  books by old favorites by A. Lee Martinez, Charles Stross, Carl HIasson, Connie Willis, and others.

I started reading Donna Leon, and wrote about a few of her books (there are many more great novels on the back list to be read).

I found some great new favorites, including Guy Adams.

In non-fiction, there have been several great books about animal intelligence, by Jennifer Ackerman and Frans De Waal. Many new articles and books about dinosaurs are coming out.

In addition to Stiglitz, Robert J. Gordon’s book on economics was good.

At a more personal note, there were a number of ebooks about “the new way of work”, by people who are  definitely walking the walk, including Angel Kwiatkowski and Beth Buczynski, Sebastian Olma, and Anastasia Cole Plankias.

For reference here is a list of the books reviewed in the fourth quarter:


1636: The Chronicles of Dr. Gribbleflottz by Kerryn Offord and Rick Boatright
A Second Chance by Jodi Taylor
Crosstalk by Connie Willis
Curioddity by Paul Jenkins
Dark Matter by Blake Crouch
For a Few Souls More by Guy Adams
Hag-seed by Margaret Atwood
Pirate Utopia by Bruce Sterling
Silver on the Road by Laura Anne Gilman
Swing Time by Zadie Smith
The Lesser Bohemians by Eimear McBride
The Terranauts by T. Coraghessan Boyle


Best State Ever by Dave Barry
Pax Romana by Adrian Goldsworthy
The Euro by Joseph Stiglitz

And here is a consolidated list from Q1, Q2, Q3:


2 A.M. at the Cat’s Pajamas by Marie-Helene Bertino
A Question of Belief by Donna Leon
A Symphony of Echoes by Jodi Taylor
At the Edge of the Orchard by Tracy Chevalier
Beastly Things by Donna Leon
By Its Cover by Donna Leon
China Rich Girlfriend by Kevin Kwan
Coconut Cowboy by Tim Dorsey
Empire State by Adam Christopher
Falling In Love by Donna Leon
Inside a Silver Box by Walter Mosley
Just One Damned Thing After Another by Jodi Taylor
Lovecraft Country by Matt Ruff
Made To Kill by Adam Christopher
Miller’s Valley by Anna Quindlen
Monstrous Little Voices edited by David Thomas Moore
Once A Crooked Man by David McCallum
Razor Girl by Carl Hiaasen
Rewired edited by James Patrick Kelly and John Kessel
Robot Uprisings ed. by Daniel H. Wilson and John Joseph Adams
Save Room For Pie by Roy Blount, Jr.
Slade House by David Mitchell
Stiletto by Daniel O’Malley
Still Life With Bread Crumbs by Anna Quindlen
The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay by Michael Chabon
The Assistants by Camille Perri
The Black-Eyed Blonde by Benjamin Black
The Clown Service by Guy Adams
The Decent Proposal by Kemper Donovan
The Everything Box by Richard Kadrey
The Golden Egg by Donna Leon
The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt
The Heart Goes Last by Margaret Atwood
The Invoice by Jonas Karlsson
The Last Adventure of Constance Verity by A. Lee Martinez
The Lost Time Accidents by John Wray
The Mad Scientist’s Guide to World Domination edited by John Joseph Adams
The Nightmare Stacks by Charles Stross
The Hike by Drew Magary
The Rain Soaked Bride by Guy Adams
The Regional Office is Under Attack by Manuel Gonzales
The Underground Railroad by Colin Whitehead
The Waters of Eternal Youth by Donna Leon
Vinegar Girl by Anny Tyler

Non fiction

Are We Smart Enough to Know How Smart Animals Are? by Frans De Waal
Chaos Monkeys by Antonio Garcia Martinez
Coworking: Building Community as a Space Catalyst by Angel Kwiatkowski and Beth Buczynski
Coworking: How freelancers escape the coffee shop office and tales of community from independents around the world by Angel Kwiatkowski and Beth Buczynski
Digital Nomads: How to Live, Work and Play Around the World by Esther Jacobs and André Gussekloo
Dude, Where’s My Drone: The future of work and what you can do to prepare for it by Liquid Talent
Hedy’s Folly by Richard Rhodes
How to Make Money (and a whole lot more) by Sharing by Claire Marshall
Inventology by Pagan Kennedy
Labor of Love by Moira Weigel
Magic and Loss by Virginia Heffernan
Reclaiming Conversation by Sherry Turkle
Straight to Hell: True Tales of Deviance, Debauchery and Billion-Dollar Deals by John LeFevre
The Farm on The Roof by Anastasia Cole Plankias
The Genius of Birds by Jennifer Ackerman
The Global Code by Clotaire Rapaille
The Invention of Nature: Alexander Humbolt’s New World by Andrea Wulf
The Rise and Fall of American Growth by Robert J. Gordon
The Serendipity Machine: A Disruptive Business Model for Society 3.0 by Sebastian Olma
The Tyrannosaur Chronicles  by David Hone
Tribe by Sebastian Junger


2016 Wrapup


Trending: Platform Cooperatives?

One of the hot trends in today’s economy are “platforms” which enable “peer-to-peer” transactions. AirBnB was a pioneer, Uber is the prime example. The “platform” in question is an internet service accessed through mobile devices which manages the matchmaking, taking a fee from each “peer” transaction. There are many examples of this concept, some more and some less successful.

Each of these cases packs together technology, a business model, and a cultural story into a seamless whole. But it is important to remember that these pieces are not inseparable, they can be combined in different ways.

For example, if we dislike Uber’s business model, why can’t we make a different Uber, one that is nicer to workers?

The first part of the answer to this question is that the technology is certainly available. No matter what the corporate press releases and ignorant journalists may imply, there is no technological wonder or genius in most of these systems. They are well-designed mash ups that take advantage of widely available technology to deliver a successful service, usually with a successful narrative that invites people to participate in the story.  This is very good work, but it is not technological wizardry.

As commercial competitors have discovered, the technology alone will not necessarily enable you to successfully compete with an established platform. If, say, Lyft, is “just like Uber”, then it is doomed from the start, because Uber is even more like Uber than Lyft. There has to be more to the story than just “not being Uber”.

So, what is needed? Not technology, but a better business plan, and concomitant story.

Platform Cooperatives

These “peer” platforms have been criticized for a variety of reasons, not least because the people who create the value in these networks bear most of the costs, reap little reward, and have no say over the business.

These beefs are all about the business plan (and legal structure) of the operation, not the technology.

Responding to these critiques, there is a movement to advocate “platform coops” and “platform cooperativism”. Think, “worker and rider owned Uber”, and you have the idea. Same great service, but operated by and for the benefit of the actual users.

In principle, this concept is straightforward. There are a number of internet resources describing and promulgating these concepts, and there are examples in operation.

This month Sharable published a nice little “explainer”, that gives a sketch of why, what, and how to do platform coops.  They comment that, “Even though the concept of a cooperative enterprise is not new, there are still relatively few of them in the digital services industry.” Looking at their explainer, we can see that legal structures and governance are probably more complicated problems than the technology. Co-ops are great, but creating a co-op is not trivial.

In earlier posts I have noted “The Internet of Ownership” which is a directory of technology, services, and organizations that implement these ideas. This directory has grown rapidly this year, and is becoming an interesting source of ideas and barometer of what is possible. Perhaps I can return to this site for future exploration.   I imagine that it will be interesting to observe how the suite evolves over the next few years.

I have also notedThe People Who Share”, a similar group with a variety of documentation and advocacy. This group also offers corporate consultancy.

While these folks share fundamental goals, it is important to say that there are many ways to skin this cat, and that is reflected in these sites. While user owned cooperatives are one approach, the same technology (and the same ideological goals) can be addressed by public sector organizations, private non-profits, for profit companies, and combinations. (The technology really doesn’t care about how the carbon based life forms organize themselves!)

I should also nod to Sensei Claire Marshall who has not only published a variety of links, but has also walked the walk in 2014 and continues to this day.  Sensei Claire reminds us that sharing is not about “platforms” but about people, and that sharing makes people happy.

It may be work pointing out that these groups and web sites are heavily invested in the third critical component I mentioned, the “story”. We now have a name for our discontent (we want better “platforms”), and a diagnosis of the evils of corporate monopoly “platforms”. The old ideal of worker owned cooperatives is actually a great match for this technology, and offers the usual benefits.

But even better, “platform cooperatives” mash up the cultural narrative about the many advantages of participating in a worker / user owned co-op, with the exciting narrative about technological disruption and the new way of work. It’s good for you, but it’s sexy, too!

And it will make you happy, too!

What’s Next?

It looks to me like there is a growing base of technology that should make it easy for anyone who wants to, to create their own “platform”. It has never been easier to experiment with these ideas.

There are many questions I don’t think I know the answers to.

What are the best scales for these concepts? Corporate platforms win by growing as large as they can, but that doesn’t seem to be a reasonable model for a co-op. The self-government will work best at moderate scales, closely identified with cultural or geographical communities. But can these platforms be sustained at small scales corresponding to communities of use?

For that matter, what kind of communities might get in this game? Here I think about possibilities like religious groups that might want to boot up this kind of platform to meet the needs of their own, and to serve a public mission. There are plenty of precedents for such efforts (including labor unions and cooperatives), and the technology would seem to match some religious missions very well.

Should this kind of coop thrive, there could be many bloody legal battles as corporate platforms discover the merits of government regulation, and strike back. (The solar and wind energy sectors have experienced this kind of skullduggery in the past couple of years.)

Finally, living as I do in the “flyover” section of the US, I will be interested to see how these concepts play out beyond the dense megacities of the coasts. Ride sharing (perhaps without human drivers) may revolutionize the city, but what will it do out in the country? For example, if car ownership declines, the cost of owning a private vehicle will rise quite a bit. How will people in dispersed, low-density locations survive, if only the wealthiest can afford to have a vehicle?

Book Review: “Labor of Love” by Moira Weigel

Labor of Love by Moira Weigel

[Full essay here]

In May, Sensei Claire Marshall published a piece, “Why The Gig Economy Is Like A Bad Boyfriend”, which made a very perceptive comparison of dating and the contemporary gig economy . Like dating, “selling yourself” in the gig economy is a lot of work, and often goes unrepaid. I remarked that she left off the one most telling parallel of all: ‘He’ is not interested in a relationship with you.

Marshall’s simile got me thinking about this correlation. It cannot be a coincidence that the same technology is employed by swipe-left dating apps and Uber-style gig markets.


Weigel on “The Labor of Love”

With this question in my head, I encountered Moira Weigel’s new book, “Labor of Love: The Invention of Dating”. Weigel’s history of American courtship customs documents how the popular culture surrounding “dating” has changed over the last centuries, but retained some consistent features. Dating generally “is a lot of work, particularly for women” (hence the subtitle), and, of especial interest here, “the way we consume
love changes to reflect the 
economy of the times”.


The Chicken or the Egg?

But, thinking about Marshall’s observations, I have to wonder if the contemporary gig economy created the dating app lifestyle, or was it vice versa?

The gig economy didn’t create the online dating scene, the dating culture created the digitally driven gig economy.


What Is To Be Done?

This possibly deep correlation between “dating” and the gig economy implies that  “solutions” for one may be valuable improvements for the other—and may pay off double in the lives of young workers. What might we want to try?

[Read the full review and essay here]

  1. Moira Weigel, Labor of Love: The Invention of Dating, New York, Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2016.

Books Reviewed in First Quarter 2016

A Housekeeping post: the  list of books reviewed in first quarter 2016.


Coconut Cowboy by Tim Dorsey
Falling In Love by Donna Leon
Inside a Silver Box by Walter Mosley
Made To Kill by Adam Christopher
Monstrous Little Voices edited by David Thomas Moore
Once A Crooked Man by David McCallum
Slade House by David Mitchell
Still Life With Bread Crumbs by Anna Quindlen
The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay by Michael Chabon
The Black-Eyed Blonde by Benjamin Black
The Heart Goes Last by Margaret Atwood
The Lost Time Accidents by John Wray
The Mad Scientist’s Guide to World Domination edited by John Joseph Adams
The Waters of Eternal Youth by Donna Leon

Non Fiction

Dude, Where’s My Drone: The future of work and what you can do to prepare for it by Liquid Talent
Hedy’s Folly by Richard Rhodes
Inventology by Pagan Kennedy
Reclaiming Conversation by Sherry Turkle
The Global Code by Clotaire Rapaille
The Invention of Nature: Alexander Humbolt’s New World by Andrea Wulf
The Serendipity Machine: A Disruptive Business Model for Society 3.0, by Sebastian Olma
How to Make Money (and a whole lot more) by Sharing by Claire Marshall

Claire Marshall Walks The Walk in 2016

Friend of the blog, Sensei Claire Marshall is at it again!

We already had her down as someone to watch in 2016, because last year she did an experiment (performance art work?), living for a month solely in London in “the sharing economy”.  This led to an ebook based on that experience and her research.

“One month is nothing,” she thinks to herself. “ Let’s try for a whole year!”

it seems that another experiment is in order and this time I am not so interested in if can you survive in the sharing economy but rather can you thrive?”

 You go, girl! She’s “Walking the Walk”, all the way.

Last year, she blogged pretty much every day, so I hope we will get periodic updates. I look forward to following this experiment/adventure/performance as it goes forward. Her initial posts indicate she is applying what she learned in the first experiment to try to budget realistically and meet her expenses. We’ll see what else we learn.

I don’t have any idea exactly what will happen, but I think it will be successful because Sense Marshall is following the key finding from her first experiment:

I’m excited about the journey ahead because, whether the experiment is a success or a failure, I know that sharing makes me happy.

My own view is that Marshall  has her head screwed on the right way. How can this not be the right idea?


Book Review: “How to Make Money (and a whole lot more) by Sharing” by Claire Marshall

How to Make Money (and a whole lot more) by Sharing by Claire Marshall

This newly released ebook came out of Claire Marshall’s “Sharing experiment”, “One month in the sharing economy in London”, which I discussed earlier.  In her “experiment”, Marshall lived for a month entirely in “the sharing economy”. In her blog and ebook based on this experience, she examines sharing that works, sharing that doesn’t work, and now wants to help boot up and spread her own vision of the sharing economy.

I should say that I admire this work. It takes a certain “gonzo” courage and dedication to dive in and actually walk the walk this way, and at the same time to record and reflect on the experience.  Brava, Claire Marshall!

Her blog gives an anecdotal story of her adventures, and now the ebook captures a lot of what she learned, mainly focusing on pointers to a lot of “platforms” that implement variations on this there. This book explores a plethora of case studies of ways that you might share, and platforms that make sharing easy (mainly covering in the US, UK, and Australia).

The examples are organized into major categories, which she tags with five “S’s”:

  • Stuff
  • Space
  • Skills
  • Save
  • Share

The services here are not particularly new—almost all are incarnations of practices that have thrived in some form for centuries in local communities around the world. But now they have been adapted to Internet based technical infrastructure.

There are well-known, gigantic platforms, such as AirBnB and Uber. Marshall highlights smaller ones, with distinct missions and communities. Most of the platforms here are much more altruistic than the billion dollar giants.

I find it quite interesting to see the diversity of services that are all built on essentially the same technology and business model. A true “Cambrian explosion” in this ecological niche!.

I’ll note that 90% of the technology in these platforms is identical to the tech that runs ecommerce and electronic markets of all kinds. Only the interface is different between something like Amazon or eBay and something like ‘Pawshake’ or ‘Casserole Club’

As in the case of coworking spaces, Internet technology has enabled this activity, but does not determine how people will use it.

I’ll refer you to the ebook and Marshall’s web site for most of the details.  In the rest of the post, let’s look at what it all means.

What is “The Sharing Economy”?

Marshall admits that the term is vague and there are quite a few overlapping terms (e.g, “on demand”, “peers, inc”, and so on.)  Marshall’s own definition is, “The sharing economy through the use of technology is an efficient way of connecting supply with demand. It takes advantage of the idle capacity of resources…” (p. 9)

This kind of sharing is not exactly new (and some would say it is very, very old [2]), but Marshall sees that recently globalization, economic crisis, and climate worries have made many people want to reduce consumption and change the way we work. In the same historical moment, the Internet makes it possible to implement very simple ways to share and swap idle resources.  Voila!

This basic idea has played out in lots of ways, through hundreds of “platforms”, large and small. (See also Robin Chase on Peers Inc.  [1].) But how well does it work (or fail), and why?

For Marshall, walking the walk seems to have made a profound impression. It made her happy, and it changed her feelings about herself, others, money, and, of course, mere “stuff”.

The sharing economy can benefit more than just your wallet. My month in the sharing economy changed me. It has made me braver, kinder and more hopeful.” (p. 99)

She draws two interesting conclusions from here experience.

First, sharing is good for you, and makes you happy because you connect and build human communities.

So engaging with the sharing economy is good for your bank balance but even more than that you are making connections and building a community. The effect of having a strong community on your happiness and health has been proved the world over so rest assured the effort is worth it, not just good for your hip pocket but for your soul. “ (p. 88)

The sharing economy can benefit more than just your wallet. My month in the sharing economy changed me. It has made me braver, kinder and more hopeful.

Second, she finds that not using money makes everyone happier.

And this was the most startling thing I found in my month in the sharing economy. When money was taken out of the equation everyone was happier. Even more strange was the fact that in the end everyone felt like they were rewarded, not necessarily directly, but somehow the transaction or connection that they made had an ‘ambient value’.” (p.90)

To me the beauty of the sharing economy is that it offers us so much more than a simple economic equation because each interaction creates a bond between people.” (p.99)

This, by the way, would be one of the conclusions one might take away from Graeber (Debt: The First 5,000 Years [2]).

Sharing and helping each other without money works really well and makes us happy, Marshall asks, “But why?”

Her answer is, “my guess is that deep down underneath our cultural learnings; … as human beings we actually like to share.” (p. 90)

Well, duh! Everything we know about human history and evolution tells us that humans are cooperative, social animals. It’s what we are, its what we do.

The sharing economy, then, is basically stuff that people have always done, but now “there are just more tech savvy ways to do it.” (p. 94). If it makes people happy, then it also enables people to do similar “sharing” more and more.


  1. Chase, Robin, Peers, Inc.: How People and Platforms are Inventing the Collaborative Economy and Reinventing Capitalism, New York, PublicAffairs, 2015.
  2. Graeber, David, Debt: The First 5,000 Years, Brooklyn, 2011.
  3. Claire Marshall, How to Make Money (and a whole lot more) by Sharing. 2015. http://www.sharestories.net/



Claire Marshall on “The Sharing Economy”

I admit that I’m still trying to grok what people are talking about when they talk about “The Sharing Economy”. As far as I can tell, it is actually an incoherent array of not-entirely-related phenomena, ranging from “Open Source ‘X’” projects to billion dollar multinational companies like AirBnb and Uber.

Claire Marshall has an interesting piece (blog and soon to appear as an ebook?), “What I Learned in My Whirlwind Month in the Sharing Economy” 

In a cool bit of “gonzo” journalism, she walked-the-walk for one month, living entirely within “the sharing economy” in the city of London. This included, she tells us, wearing strangers’ clothes, eating their food, teaching their children, sleeping in their beds, and working with them—and blogging about it. This is, perhaps, a snapshot of what “the sharing economy” looks like.

From this experience, she offers several conclusions. It’s a thoughtful and interesting list, that actually helps define what “the sharing economy” is:

  1. It’s easy to make money by sharing your stuff.
  2. It’s hard to make money by sharing your time.
  3. We act differently when money is removed.
  4. We are happiest when we share.

“Sharing stuff” is one of the most visible and successful manifestations, with AirBnB front and center. Sharing idle resources is not only green and intelligent, it is, she says, liberating when “you start to see your possessions in a different way—like a resource to be shared not something to be owned.”

However, sharing out your own time this way is not really a viable idea. This extreme version of the gig economy is “hard and stressful”, she reports. “The precarious nature of the employment made me edgy, and the tiny amounts of money coupled with the often 20% platform fee made me depressed.” (The “20%” refers specifically to Fiver, which gives you $4 for a $5 odd job.)

(An old, gray-haired Marxist might note that the sharing economy works great for capital (those who own stuff) and lousy for workers (those who only own their own time). A more efficient way to exploit the poor, and to get them to exploit themselves. Sigh. Ever were it so.)

But the sharing economy is not necessarily about economics at all—sharing is, and always has been, about people acting like good people. Marshall tells us that she perceives that when the monetary transaction is removed, “magic happens”. The magic is, apparently, friendship and genuine human relations, and leads to other good things.

This comment reflects exactly the social effects of money discussed by David Graeber (“Debt: The First 5.000 Years”). He talks about historical and anthropological evidence of how introduction of money shreds and destroys social nets of friendship and mutual debt. Marshall seems to indicate that even a short time operating “post-money” starts rebuilding these ties. If so, we would expect favorable effects on personal identity and community to flow from these changes.

And, indeed, Marshall’s bottom line—to use that terrible phrase from the money economy—is that the experience was beautiful and made her happy and, I would say, more human.


If we take this report as accurate and representative, then I can see why these disparate efforts at “sharing”, none of which are especially new or powerful on their own, are so motivating and successful for the participants. Happiness is a whale of a lot more powerful than money for most people.

It also suggests that these efforts may be surprisingly sustainable, even without major institutional or financial underpinnings. In fact, the lack of infrastructure may be an advantage: there is little to erode or attack, so it can go on as long as people want it to.

Finally, we should take a careful look at the “big platforms” that are operating huge businesses in the “sharing” economy.  Marshall comments that AirBnB or Uber succeed partly because they move the financial transaction away from the human contact, freeing the people to just be people (not “producers” and “consumers”). I think the picture is more complex, of course, because the third party (the “platform” a la Robin Chase) is still there, if off stage.

We might also ask about the morality of a business model that essentially charges rent on helping people to “share”. It is even more  interesting to consider that, if sharing really makes people happy (and I’m certainly prepared to believe that), then “Open Source” platforms should soon replace the avaricious parasites like Uber. Why can’t I build the same thing as Uber and give it away?  Why shouldn’t I do so?

Interesting stuff.