The topic of my talk was “Peer Progress and Regulation 2.0” — something I’ve been thinking and talking about over the past several months, but haven’t yet written a ton about. That will change soon.
In a nutshell: we are seeing an explosion of “peer networks” — networks of people, powered by the web, collaborating and consuming in new ways (think: Etsy, Airbnb, Skillshare, Kickstarter, etc.) As these network-oriented communities touch more and more real-world sectors (housing, transportation, health, education) they are running into regulatory trouble, as many of them don’t fit into traditional categories (is Airbnb a Hotel? a phone book? a real estate broker? Is Skillshare a university?), often operate in legal gray areas, and often disrupt incumbents.
I’ve been working with many of these companies, and with folks in academia and in the public sector, to get a better understanding of what this means (for our economies, our neighborhoods, etc) and how we might approach it. There is tremendous opportunity here — as networks tend to produce solutions that are lower in cost and more scalable than traditional approaches — but there are also new kinds of risk, as the barriers to production and consumption decrease. All of this presents really interesting public policy questions.
Perhaps the most interesting idea that came out of the discussion is the notion scale. When peer networks are just starting out — often in new sectors — they have relatively little overall impact on the economy or society. But as they grow, their impact increases exponentially. The idea of some sort of safe harbor for smaller, earlier networks, that would allow them the freedom to innovate and to explore new opportunities, is an interesting one.