The sharing economy relies on a distributed workforce, shareable assets, and peer-to-peer transactions and contracts. Uber and Airbnb are probably the most famous examples, allowing people to make money by sharing their homes and their cars. Now blockchain technology is making it possible to earn money by sharing a whole new set of assets, such as compute power, storage capacity, and even personal data. Because so many more of us own computers than houses or vehicles, a greater number of people can participate.Companies in these emerging marketplaces handle payments through smart contracts and blockchain technology. This greatly lowers costs, improves trust and transparency with the community, and simplifies transactions at a global scale by making them near-instantaneous, even when distributing payments to thousands of digital wallets at once.
Here’s a look at 11 companies creating these digital sharing economies:
Warsaw-based Golem, which calls itself an Airbnb for computers, rents out compute power. When your computer is idle, Golem puts its CPUs to work, paying you for the performance you deliver. Payments are all handled through the blockchain, with future plans to incorporate reputation tracking in the future. SONM, based in Moscow, and BOINC, in Berkeley, are other competitors in this space. (Note, though, that BOINC is purely used to voluntarily share compute to cure diseases, study global warming, and other scientific research projects, and sharers are not paid for sharing resources.)
Another company, Gladius, based in College Park, MD, runs a sharing network designed to soften the blow of DDoS attacks by offloading inbound DDoS traffic to desktop computers that share their bandwidth with the network. Desktop owners are paid via blockchain for the bandwidth Gladius uses, but they are able to set limits so their own systems are not overwhelmed.
My team at Storj in Atlanta and the team at Sia in Boston are building distributed cloud storage platforms. The platforms let individuals rent out their unused hard drive space, putting that capacity to work while maintaining the right to the hard drive itself. Companies looking to store data can rent this space, and encryption and other security processes ensure data remains private. Just like Airbnb hosts, renters can choose to stop renting whenever they want.
If you were a teen at the beginning of this century, you likely remember the era of SMS texting limits. If you surpassed your limit, you were billed overages. A Tallinn, Estonia-based company called Canopus is taking advantage of the modern era of unlimited texting. Its SMSCHAIN service lets mobile-phone users sell unused SMS texts that are then resold to companies that purchase them to communicate with customers. Canopus connects the two parties and trades (payment for SMS texts) are executed through blockchain technology.
When you use IoT devices, like Fitbit, Nest and others, you get access to the data you generate, but vendors often sell this same data to help companies better understand consumer habits. New York-based Loomia is leveling the playing field by allowing you to control your digital identity. The company has created a line of products that gather your data but give you exclusive ownership rights. Users create blockchain-based profiles and can then sell this data to vendors via Loomia’s data exchange. Or, if you decide you’d rather not, no one sees the data but you.
One of the biggest markets for data is social media and online retail. DataWallet, based in San Francisco, helps users download their digital identity and upload it to a blockchain-powered data exchange where companies can purchase it, with payments made to users through the blockchain.
More blockchain in the sharing economy
Several companies are even leveraging blockchain to replicate traditional sharing economy services. Ride-sharing company LaZooz, based in Tel Aviv, is building a decentralized, Uber-like app that uses blockchain to pay drivers and other community participants. LaZooz’s long-term vision includes companies building a variety of front-end applications on top of the product, but even at surface level there is massive opportunity to maximize revenue for LaZooz community members. Traditional sharing economy platforms like Uber and Airbnb often take 10-20 percent of the revenues generated from the service, so decentralized approaches could reduce prices for consumers and raise revenues for hosts. WeTrust, in Fremont, CA, is doing something similar in the peer-to-peer lending space, charging only a max fee of .3 percent instead of 1 percent, like LendingClub. This is only possible because blockchain platforms leverage existing assets that lower total costs.
While it’s unlikely anyone will retire off of sharing digital assets, the resources shared are much more ubiquitous and often go unused throughout their lifespan, meaning lost revenue for users. They also require zero-to-little upkeep (no cleaning fees, vehicle maintenance, etc.), with their set-it-and-forget-it approach. At minimum, being a user at one of these companies lets you dip your toes into the cryptocurrency space without having to pay $6,000 for a single bitcoin!
Shawn Wilkinson is cofounder and Chief Strategy Officer at Storj Labs.