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The Internet of Things: Ups & Downs in the Sharing Economy
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The Internet of Things: Ups & Downs in the Sharing Economy - Executive Leadership Articles

The Internet of Things: Ups & Downs in the Sharing Economy

Executive Leadership Articles

The Internet of Things: Ups & Downs in the Sharing Economy

Umbrella sharing seemed like a great idea. Some of the world’s most populous cities, where car ownership is often impractical and most people walk to and from work, were stocked with remote-access umbrellas for those caught-in-the-rain moments very pedestrian is familiar with. A code sent via mobile app unlocked the umbrellas for rental. When the user was finished with it, he or she closed the umbrella and left it somewhere convenient for the next user. No share stations or kiosks, just the new sharing economy at work in the most convenient way.

Yet this weekend, news agencies reported that a Chinese startup, the latest in a small wave of umbrella-sharing services, had lost 300,000 umbrellas in just a few weeks. Although it’s more likely that the majority of umbrellas were not stolen but simply brought into homes and left there, rather than returned to the street, the apparent catastrophe brings into focus the usual--and still unpredictable--pitfalls of new technology in new, enormous markets. For every Uber that has investors turning cartwheels of joy, there are countless stories like this, victims of unforeseen complications.

The umbrella-sharing concept isn’t unique. A few years ago, startup entrepreneurs appeared on the popular TV program Shark Tank, where they pitched their kiosk-based idea for metropolitan areas and school campuses. Their effort failed to secure investments from the Sharks, but while one Shark declared it perhaps the worst idea he’d ever seen on the show, others acknowledged that the presenters were on to something. There’s a problem. There’s a need. There are thousands of people who might welcome the convenience of their solution.

In China’s case, we’re talking about a market where a mind-boggling 600 million consumers spent $500 billion in 2016. All those walkers. All that rain.

Elsewhere in China, sleeping pods for office workers needing a nap were recently shut down over concerns of cleanliness and safety. On the surface, it seems a sure-fire winner. What professional hasn’t snuck off to a car during a lunch break to catch a power nap? With the right pricing and convenience, the ease and semi-confidentiality of pod-sharing could really take off, but can the provider reasonably and credibly assure users that they’ll receive a clean pod and that they will be safe? Add other considerations in regulated markets (as are currently being contested in many cities with services like Uber and Airbnb), and other questions pop up. What makes a nap pod not a hotel, and why shouldn’t it be regulated like a hotel?

Bike-sharing services continue to pop up in cities around the world, sometimes thriving and sometimes floundering. There are even station-less services similar to the kiosk-free umbrellas: see a bike, get an unlock code from your mobile app, get to your location, then park it somewhere safe on the street for the next user and walk away. Public parks offer equipment-sharing. Shopping malls offer phone-charger sharing. Recent surveys of Millennials suggest that the potential is still far from being realized. Why not laptop-sharing, meal-sharing, and textbook-sharing?

The possibilities seem endless, but a rabid market and novel idea are clearly not enough to guarantee any kind of success, no matter how flawless an idea appears at first glance. It’s an exciting time, and who knows what else is on the horizon for the connectedness of all our things?


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The Internet of Things: Ups & Downs in the Sharing Economy - Executive Leadership Articles

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