ACCESS TO PARTICIPATION IN THE SHARING ECONOMY: THE CASE OF LOCAL ONLINE EXCHANGE IN A SINGLE PARENTS’ NETWORK
This paper examines the social implications of the online sharing economy for a specific use case: single parents in need of local goods and services. The sharing economy is an emerging phenomenon that encompasses the use of networked tools to enable a range of social and economic exchanges, as well as co-use practices such as hospitality exchange, ridesharing, and recycling of used goods. We present a case study of local online exchange among an existing community network of single parents, including participant observation and thirteen formal, semi-structured interviews. In addition, we discuss our collaboration with the community to design an online exchange network that prioritized their existing needs. This research addresses issues that can hinder the emergence of sharing practices—even when the potential benefits of participation are considered desirable and necessary by the target users. Our analysis demonstrates how community members were tempted by the social and material resources that participation in an online exchange network might provide. However, we found that the initial time investment and social commitment needed to gain access to these resources proved to be a significant hurdle for adoption. Through our empirical analysis, we discuss how unique challenges of single parenthood sometimes impeded opportunities to build trust and take part in online sharing activities. The results of our research highlight the challenges of user-focused design, and complicate the dominant narrative of the sharing economy as an accessible and convenient alternative for traditional markets.