Gig economy

The new ways of working enabled by platforms are referred to with term such as gig economy, on-demand economy or open talent economy. What is common to all of these is that they redefine the relationship between the employer and employee. While connecting supply and demand of work through a platform is nothing new, there is currently a massive growth in the size of the gig economy, fuelled by increasing online access and willingness to do disparate tasks.

Why is this important?

The welfare system, especially in the Nordic Countries, is based on the assumption of a steady employment with one employer. The current legislation and regulation is not capable of dealing with the new ways of working emerging from the platform economy as traditional criteria for what is considered as taxable income or work regulated by labour legislation no longer fits the scheme. Is everyone an entrepreneur in the platform economy or should the platform be viewed as an employer? How can social security and fair working conditions be ensured?

Gig economy proponents highlight the flexibility and freedom that platforms provide for the worker as well as the company. Especially SMEs benefit from the gig economy, as they are often agile enough to recruit quickly and are more prone to experience changing demand. Critics state that the work is unstable, isolating, stressful and devoid of welfare benefits. Gig economy favours highly skilled people with good health and thus may contribute to societal polarization. Furthermore, it is driving wages down globally, as platforms enable outsourcing of a variety of tasks, thus expanding the global marketplace.

Things to keep an eye on

To ensure fair and decent working conditions, a mix of regulation, new practices and worker collective action is required. The big benefit but also the central challenge with gig economy is that it is global. Regulation puts countries at different positions and workers have a tough time coming together and bargaining in a dispersed global network. For new practices and ways of operating, platform cooperatives are worth keeping an eye on.

For a company wanting to benefit from gig economy the focus should be on improving human relation practices. Employing should be swift and there should be a good balance between full-time and temporary workers. Different metrics to gauge employee satisfaction and working conditions should be in place and up-to-date.

Selected articles and websites

What’s After The Gig Economy? The Talent Economy
What the Gig Economy Looks Like Around the World
How The Gig Economy Will Change In 2017
The Gig Economy Celebrates Working Yourself To Death
Harnessing The Power Of The Open Talent Economy
10 Ways the Gig Economy Can Help Small Manufacturing Businesses
LinkedIn Finds Small Businesses Driving Gig Economy
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Mikko Dufva

Research Scientist VTT Technical Research Centre of Finland Ltd
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Digital activism

Internet, platforms and digital technologies offer new ways of spreading the message and organising action for different cause-driven movements and citizen activism. This digital activism is not limited to using platforms to support existing forms of activism, but also takes advantage of the new opportunities platforms give for distributing value and providing access for information.

Why is this important?

The clear benefit of platforms for activism is new tools for communicating, deliberating, organising and connecting. Platforms such as Enspiral support a collaborative culture, constructive deliberation and collective decision making. They pool together resources such as money, time and skills to promote a jointly agreed upon set of projects. There are also platforms aimed at explaining obscure policies or laws or doing the increasingly important fact-checking.

In addition to tools, there is a quieter form of digital activism, one aimed at changing societal structures of access of information and distribution of value. Projects building ad hoc digital networks or internet access points aim to circumvent restrictions on the access to information. Platform cooperatives aim to reshape the way value is distributed within the system. In general, the aim is to improve the possibilities of those that are respressed or silenced via digital cencorship, or left out in the winner-takes-all forms of digital economy.

Things to keep an eye on

Digital activism suffers from so called “clicktivism”, where people are eager to support a cause if it just means clicking a button. Then when nothing changes, people lose their faith also in other forms of activism. Therefore digital activism needs also “off-line” activism. At best, digital activism can support other forms of activism, at worst it can undermine them.

There are also interesting examples of what can emerge out of the interface between the physical and digital in the age of smart phones and ubiquitous connectivity. One such example is the “I’m being arrested” app, which is a panic button for demonstrators to let a preselected group of people know that they are in trouble. Using location aware and camera equipped smartphones provides new tools for ensuring transparency and fair treatment.

On the flipside, digital activism raises also questions about ethics and responsibilities. Whistleblowing and the leaking of classified information may be a necessary alarm call in some cases, and in others it may just do more harm through unintended side effects. It is worth noting where the activism rises and what are its underlying intentions. There is also the question of drawing a line between civil disobedience, mischief “for the lolz” and outright criminal activity.

A potential transformation may happen  through the adoption of the tools for collective decision making and deliberation, as they find their way increasingly to more conventional arenas of decision making. It is interesting to see if they change the forms of governance.

Selected articles and websites

How a new wave of digital activists is changing society
Digital and Online Activism
Flex your political activist muscles with these resources
Mobile Justice (Team Human podcast with Jason van Anden)
Enspiral – more people working on stuff that matters
Loomio – making decisions together

See also our signal on persuasive computing

Mikko Dufva

Research Scientist VTT Technical Research Centre of Finland Ltd
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Distributed autonomous organization

A distributed (or decentralised) autonomous organisation (DAO) is a new form of organising business transactions, one in which all agreements and transactions are done through code and saved in a shared ledger. It is enabled by blockchain and smart contracts. In a DAO there is no management, but instead complete transparency (as all the transactions are shared) and total shareholder control (as anyone that takes part in a DAO can decide what to do with the funds invested). More broadly, a DAO is an experiment of organising business transactions, where trust is outsourced to code and blockchain. The prominent example of a DAO is aptly named “The DAO”, which is an investment fund without management.

Why is this important?

DAO is a structure built upon a blockchain platform such as Ethereum. It is itself also a type of platform in that through it many types of transactions can be done. DAO is an example of how platforms do not just transfer old ways of organising to digital, networked world, but instead enable new forms of organising and governance. DAO is a structure on which to build different types of activities from investment funds to shared data repositories. It can be used to organise an autonomous ridesharing ecosystem, where there are competing applications for matching, payment, user interface etc, all working seamlessly together. It enables new governance models, such as “futarchy”, which uses a prediction market to choose between policies.

DAO can also be seen as a response to the transformation in work, much like platform cooperativism. As work becomes more like a risky investment than a steady source of income, organisational structures can help cope with the new reality. Whereas platform cooperatives solve the problem by using digital platform to enable fair distribution of value and power, DAOs try to achieve the same through smart contracts, code and blockchain – in other words without humans who could risk the fairness of the system.

Things to keep an eye on

DAOs are based on the idea that all rules can be embedded in the code and system. Smart contracts are described as plain English, but what matters really is the code that defines what the contracts do. Code is susceptible to human error, which means that those agreeing on the conditions of the contract must be able to decipher the code or trust that someone has checked it. An interesting example of what this can lead to happened last spring in The DAO.

In June 2016 a hacker managed to use a vulnerability in a smart contract and transfer a large amount of funds to another contract within the DAO. This led to an ideological discussion about what to do: should this transaction be cancelled and the immutability of the blockchain thus questioned, or should those who lost their money just accept what happened. Because there is no one officially in control, the developers of the Ethereum platform, on which The DAO operates, recommended as their preferred solution “hard fork”, i.e. to cancel the transaction and gave the decision to participants of The DAO. A majority voted in favour of the hard fork, but the original version of the blockchain containing the disputed transaction still exists as “Ethereum Classic”.

The example above indicates how the practices around DAOs are developing. Blockchain technology is still in its infancy and lots of failures and experimentation on the applications are to be expected. There is now clearly a need for built-in governance systems for dispute settlement. One example of this is Microsoft’s project Bletchley, which aims to develop a distributed ledger marketplace and “cryptlets” that would work in the interface between humans and the blockchain implementations. Cryplets would basically mix more traditional methods to ensure trust with blockchain.

On a broader level there is the question of whether or not a DAO is an organisation and what is its legal status or the role of the tokens that represent funds or other assets. There is also the question of whether there is really a need for such an organisation, which eliminates middlemen completely, as middlemen can be useful and provide services other than just matching demand and supply. On a technological and more long-term note, as the blockchain is based on encryption, it is vulnerable to quantum computers, which could break the encryption by calculating private keys from public keys in minutes.

Selected articles and websites

Post-blockchain smart contracts creating a new firm
TED Talk: How the blockchain will radically transform the economy | Bettina Warburg
The humans who dream of companies that won’t need them
The Tao of “The DAO” or: How the autonomous corporation is already here
The DAO: a radical experiment that could be the future of decentralised governance
Why Ethereum’s Hard Fork Will Cause Problems in the Coming Year
The gateway to a new business order: Why crowdfunding is just the start of the next era of organisations

Mikko Dufva

Research Scientist VTT Technical Research Centre of Finland Ltd
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Alternative forms of platforms in ridesharing

Services like Uber and Lyft are the dominant platforms when it comes to getting a ride from A to B. Recently there has been a movement to delete the Uber app, driven the companies actions in relation to president Trump’s so called Muslim ban. This has benefited Lyft, but also drawn attention to other alternatives. These alternatives use platform thinking not only to optimize the matching of drivers and customers, but also to restructure the way value is shared.

Why is this important?

Different forms of platforms lead to different impacts. Lyft and Uber operate as companies seeking growth and maximizing value for their shareholders. This leads them to focus on scaling and increasing efficiency. On the other hand, locally based platform cooperatives, such as Denver-based Green Taxi Cooperative, try to grow to a sustainable size and share the profits among workers and users of the platform. Green Taxi Cooperative was born as a reaction to Uber by the local taxi industry and could be seen as an example of a counter trend to global winner-takes-all platforms.

La’Zooz, on the other hand, utilizes the decentralization enabled by blockchain and is an example of a distributed, decentralized organization owned by its users. Libre Taxi is an open-source app freely implementable by anyone. What is noteworthy in these decentralized alternatives is that they can cater for situations where companies like Uber have no interest, such as ridesharing in Siberia.

Things to keep an eye on

The #DeleteUber issue is an interesting example of the direct power of consumers in platforms. The question that remains to be seen is whether these kinds of movements have any actual impact, or does the ease of use make users forget about the behaviour of the platform company. The emergence of platform cooperatives and the adoption of blockchain-based services will undoubtedly change the forms of platforms. Also it is interesting how complex services can already be built on top of other platforms (Libre Taxi is built on top of messaging service Telegram).

Selected articles and websites

#DeleteUber reportedly led 200,000 people to delete their accounts
Denver Taxi Drivers Are Turning Uber’s Disruption on Its Head
Green Taxi Cooperative: Building an alternative to the corporate “Sharing Economy”
La’Zooz: The Decentralized, Crypto-Alternative to Uber
La’Zooz website
LibreTaxi website
Uber-like app in no time with JavaScript and secret sauce

Mikko Dufva

Research Scientist VTT Technical Research Centre of Finland Ltd
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Platform cooperatives

Why is this important?

The current big players in the platform economy operate with the aim to increase shareholder value. Although the business model is different than with most incumbents, the business logic is rather similar. However, platforms support also other forms of organisation and value distribution, for example the cooperative. What if the drivers would own the platform they use for connecting with customers? Herein lies potential impact to the way economic value is distributed.

Things to keep an eye on

Technology is not an obstacle for platform coops to scale, the hurdles lie in social organisation and practices. Trust, fair rules and efficient decision making are key things to solve. Technologies such as blockchain can help here, but it is useful to keep in mind that they are only as good as they are coded to be.

Selected articles and websites

Why Platform Cooperatives Can Be The Answer To A Fairer Sharing Economy
Platform Cooperativism Consortium
Bringing the Platform Co-op “Rebel Cities” Together: An Interview with Trebor Scholz:
Proposal: turn Twitter into a user-owned co-op

Mikko Dufva

Research Scientist VTT Technical Research Centre of Finland Ltd
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