The rapid evolution of the internet has brought about significant changes in how we produce and consume media content. In contrast to the earlier era of mass media on the internet when we primarily absorbed information passively, serving as mere recipients of data, we now possess the capability to actively participate in the creation and sharing of content through platforms like Facebook, Instagram, Kuaishou, and others. This shift has blurred the once well-defined boundary between those who create cultural and media content and those who consume it, as anyone can now take on the role of a content creator or even a micro-entrepreneur by uploading videos or posts. (Castells, 2002). Moreover, platforms such as Uber, Uber Eats, and Airbnb have expanded our ability to offer or request various services. This signifies a transformation towards a more diverse internet environment, offering increased opportunities and possibilities. Highlighting the transformation known as The Sharing Economy and the rise of Platformisation.
What is The Sharing Economy?
The sharing economy is defined as an economic system in which individuals are encouagred to share their goods and resources. According to the Australian Business Government, the sharing economy connects workers with consumers directly through digital platforms, such as apps or websites. Consumers can request services or goods online, while workers have the freedom to choose tasks they wish to undertake in exchange for compensation. Nicholas (2016) notes that the term ‘share economy’ is initially linked with apps like Airbnb, Uber, and online search engines that prioritize access over ownership and individuals over teamwork. Platform companies play a vital role in facilitating the interaction between workers and customers, whether by matching supply and demand or monetizing financial and goods transactions, which leads to an immense expansion of digital platforms and the emergence of platform companies, creating a phenomenon known as Platformisation.
What is Platformisation?
According to Duffy’s (2019) explanation, platformisation can be described as “an extension of social media platforms into the rest of the web and their drive to make external web data platform ready.” The ascent of platformisation not only enhances the production of cultural content online but also reshapes it by incorporating economic and governmental aspects into the digital platform ecosystem. This transformation fundamentally alters the dynamics of cultural and media production, as it now largely hinges on online platforms due to the ritualization of everyday cultural activities.
For example, the major cultural production digital platform ‘Webtoon’ is popular for its digital online comic series. Webtoon provides a free online platform for creative labours to publish their comics, while readers also have access to various content with free trials. Besides, Webtoon often collaborates with other digital platforms such as Wattpad and Netflix to produce extended cultural content like fiction, TV series and movies, demonstrating the exciting possibilities that emerge when Webtoon collaborates with other platforms to produce more diverse entertainment content.
The benefit of The Sharing Economy and Platformisation
The sharing economy and platformisation have indeed revolutionized cultural and media production, contributing significantly to both economic and cultural growth in society by creating more possibilities. In digital platforms like Webtoon, which offer a free online space with a substantial fan base and extensive public exposure for all creative labours, regardless of their popularity, even beginner content creators can utilize it as a launching pad for their careers. Offering artists with more opportunities to engage with a broader readership, consequently garnering more fan support.
Besides, signing up as a “webtoonist” or participating in various roles within digital platforms like Uber and Uber Eats does not require any external fees. This facilitates a convenient and cost-free entry into these occupations, with lower geographical and educational limitations. As ‘webtoonists’ no longer need to cover the expenses of hosting fees for individual websites or publications, while ‘Uber drivers’ can employ their own vehicles for driving or delivering purposes. This indicates that the sharing economy and platformisation have empowered these laborers by providing them with a more accessible and convenient platform.
Furthermore, Kim’s (2019) article highlights that in the platform of Webtoon, it utilises a more “creator-centred incubating policy”, which ensures a more stable working environment for ‘webtoonists’. Other digital platforms have also adapted to various creator-friendly policies in response to alternative platforms and societal criticism of their working conditions. Consequently, many digital workers are not bound by platform-imposed terms and conditions, they are often “endowed with a sense of autonomy” which allows them to migrate freely from one platform to another without concerns about compensation and the ownership of their intellectual property. This demonstrates that through the improvement of platforms’ policies, laborers’s rights can be protected and a generally flexible and convenient working enviornment can be established.
The Risks of The Sharing Economy and Platformisation
However, there are also risks and disadvantages to be considered as the nature of the sharing economy and plaformisation is a contested concept. Jeroen de Kloet (2019) mentions that the process of platformisation is “the penetration of economic, governmental, and infrastructural extensions of digital platforms into the web and app ecosystems.”, which challenges the established regulatory frameworks within traditional institutional businesses, such as hotels, newspapers and taxi companies.
Due to the competitive nature of various digital platforms, in order to compete with traditional businesses and alternate platforms, they tend to attract consumers at the expense of labor compensation. Consequently, laborers may find themselves working without wages or receiving inadequate pay, as there are no traditional labor laws to protect their minimum wage and other rights. This indicates the intensification of labor precarization through the highly unpredictable, “always on” career pathways and unstable remuneration structures.
Nevertheless, many of the legal rights of laborers are governed by user agreements, making it challenging to defend their rights against major digital platforms that possess significant data and platform power. It displays that platformisation can be exploitative as laborers have to comply with platforms’ policies and agreements within an unregulated system with no employee protection or social rights.
In conclusion, while they offer more opportunities for economic growth and innovative ways of working, and a more flexible working environment, it can also be exploitative with potential drawbacks and challenges, particularly when laborers are working under unregulated or unstable system that lacks protection. It signifies that the development of The Sharing Economy and Platformisation is not a uniform process, instead it should be testify by infrastructure, governance and practice to ensure their need of thoughtful regulation and consideratio pf laborer rights in this evolving digital landscape.
Castells, M. (2002). The Culture of the Internet. In Title of the Book (pp. 36-63). https://doi.org/10.1093/acprof:oso/9780199255771.003.0003
de Kloet, J., Poell, T., Guohua, Z., & Yiu Fai, C. (2019). The platformization of Chinese Society: Infrastructure, governance, and practice. Chinese Journal of Communication, 12(3), 249-256. https://doi.org/10.1080/17544750.2019.1644008
Duffy, B. E., Poell, T., & Nieborg, D. B. (2019). Platform Practices in the Cultural Industries: Creativity, Labor, and Citizenship. Social Media + Society, 5(4). https://doi.org/10.1177/2056305119879672. SAGE Publications.
Kim, J.-H., & Yu, J. (2019). Platformizing Webtoons: The Impact on Creative and Digital Labor in South Korea. Social Media + Society, 5(4). https://doi.org/10.1177/2056305119880174. SAGE Publications.