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Communications of the ACM

Economic and business dimensions

Unknowns of the Gig-Economy

Unknowns of the Gig-Economy, illustrative photo

Credit: Steve Rhodes

Although gig-economy platforms like Uber, Postmates, and Thumb-Tack have captured the attention of policymakers and practitioners, research has only begun to tackle a $26B phenomenon17 that is estimated to grow dramatically in the coming years. Gig-economy platforms, defined as digital, service based, on-demand platforms that enable flexible work arrangements19 are a unique recent addition to the broader category of peer-to-peer platform business-models, which previously comprised intermediaries facilitating the exchange of tangible goods (for example, Etsy, eBay, or Alibaba).

New phenomena come with new research questions. To date, such research has examined a variety of important topics, including consumer surplus,14,16 drunk driving,12 disruption of industry incumbents,2,20 entrepreneurial activity,3 and the evolving nature of the employer-employee relationship.9,10 Importantly, authors of these works have been careful not to cast changes brought by the gig-economy in beneficial or pejorative terms, working instead towards the collection of a broad base of objective empirical facts that can inform policy. However, the collection of findings amassed thus far has arisen from disparate academic disciplines, conducting work across different levels of analysis, such as markets, firms, and individuals, which hampers their integration toward unified conclusions, and limits the identification of the most promising avenues for future work. Considering the critical implications for individuals, firms, and markets, we call for multidisciplinary research at each of these levels to both accelerate our understanding of the gig-economy, and to inform legislators of the potential benefits and pitfalls of the gig-economy (thereby facilitating the creation of effective policy). We anticipate that Communications readers will be heavily involved in research relating to the effective design and functioning of gig-economy markets, which will subsequently inform significant research addressing firm- and individual-level effects. We anticipate such effects will be of interest to colleagues in the social sciences, namely scholars of management, economics, and sociology.


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