HIIT at CSCW 2013: The ideal of self-sufficiency puts brakes on sharing economy

Tue, 26.02.2013


According to a recent study by HIIT and UC Berkeley researchers, fear of owing a debt of gratitude and a reluctance to ask for help are slowing the success of online services that facilitate joint use, borrowing and exchange of services. People who engage in exchange activities were not as concerned about becoming the target of unfair accusations about being a ‘free rider’.

Helsinki Institute of Information Technology HIIT researchers Airi Lampinen and Vilma Lehtinen worked with Coye Cheshire from University of California and Emmi Suhonen from Aalto University to study the views of Sharetribe users concerning indebtedness and reciprocity. Sharetribe (known as Kassi at the time of the study) is a web service that began as a part of an Aalto University research project in 2008 and later became an independent spin-off company. The service supports exchange activities in local communities, such as campuses and city neighborhoods.

Study participants were particularly worried about ending up indebted and made efforts to avoid or repay that debt. Many were reluctant to request a service or borrow an item that they needed unless they could first help someone else or return the favor immediately. Along with offering the traditional 'little cash of coffee', people alleviate the discomforts of indebtedness by, for example, trying to make the exchange process as convenient as possible for the other party. People can also request help for other people, such as a spouse or a room-mate, rather than directly for themselves. In such cases, the debt of gratitude does not seem as problematic since asking one person for help means doing a favor for another.

– Asking for help is equally important as offering in terms of maintaining the vitality of the community. In order to be successful, local community exchange activities require both - and who needs and who offers help varies from one situation to another, ’ says Lampinen. When considering ways to encourage people to participate in exchange activities, the goal should not be to remove the obligation to reciprocate or to eliminate all feelings of indebtedness. Both of these are important because they guide community members to treat each other fairly. However, online services that support exchange activities can help challenging the unnecessarily strict ideal of being independent.

The study will be published this week at the internationally renowned ACM CSCW 2013 conference that is held this year in San Antonio in the United States. CSCW is the largest annual research conference focusing on computer-supported cooperative work.

The research was carried out as part of the OtaSizzle research project that belongs to Aalto University's MIDE Program focused on digitalization and energy. MIDE funding is based on donations to the Technology for Life campaign from companies and communities. The OtaSizzle project is coordinated by Helsinki Institute of Information Technology HIIT, which is a joint research institute run by Aalto University and the University of Helsinki.

Further information:

Airi Lampinen, Doctoral candidate
Helsinki Institute for Information Technology HIIT
Tel. +358 50 301 6971

Vilma Lehtinen, Doctoral candidate
Helsinki Institute for Information Technology HIIT
Tel. +358 50 384 1523

Further information about Sharetribe:

Last updated on 26 Feb 2013 by Airi Lampinen - Page created on 26 Feb 2013 by Airi Lampinen