The Role of Users in the Platform Economy. A comparative case study of institutional change by users of Airbnb.
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An enormous increase in the number of users of peer-2peer (P2P) service platforms has recently displaced, altered, or threatened existing and regulated markets. Moreover, these platforms have boosted discussions about their economic and social value and are concurrently changing social and economic dynamics, which has both intended and unintended consequences. These consequences involve changes in legitimacy and legality, which can be defined as institutional change. This thesis is one of the first that aims to explore and explain institutional change due to P2P service platforms. As platforms facilitate the communication between its users, the dynamics are different than in traditional businesses. It is expected that the role of the user is more prominent and pro-active in influencing institutional change. This leads to the following research question: What is the role of users of home sharing platforms in influencing institutional change? In this thesis a framework is constructed to explain and emphasize the role of users in institutional change. This role is explored during a comparative case study of three cities in which Airbnb is active; Amsterdam, New York, and London. Four types of data sources are used; newspaper articles, policy reports, user initiatives reports, and expert interviews. These are analysed by means of event history analysis, to obtain a comprehensive overview of institutional change due to Airbnb and its users. The main finding is that a platform’s users play an important role in influencing institutional change. This becomes apparent through three distinctions; type of user, type of activity, and type of influence. Firstly, there are users who already have a legitimate position and possess specific knowledge, the expert user, and the ‘regular’ user who does not have specific knowledge. Secondly, there are activities with a high barrier, these are time consuming and specific knowledge is needed, and there are activities with a low barrier, these are less time consuming and often involve the expression of an opinion. Thirdly, there are activities that influence the degree of legitimacy, these are aimed at accustoming the society to the new service, and there are activities that influence the degree of legality, these are aimed at mobilising regulatory support. To conclude, this thesis shows that the degree of legality is predominantly influenced by activities with a high barrier, which are mostly performed by hosts. While the degree of legitimacy is predominantly influenced by activities with a low barrier and are performed by all users.