The Development of a Customizable Minimum Viable Platform for the Sharing Economy
The sharing economy has emerged as a viable alternative to fulfilling a variety of consumer needs, ranging from prepared meals to cars to overnight accommodations (Zervas, Proserpio and Byers, 2014). It has the potential to further revolutionize the way we access and use resources, leading to increased efficiency and reduced waste. The sharing economy already has positive environmental and social impacts (Frenken and Schor, 2017), through a reduction in the total resources required and simplifying local human contact. For example, vehicle-sharing applications like BlaBlaCar reduce production and emissions as they shifting personal transportation choices from ownership to demand-fulfilment (Mi and Coffman, 2019), and stimulate people driving together and meet each other. However, the full potential of the sharing economy has yet to be realized (Heinrichs, 2013).
A Minimum Viable Platform (MVP) is a version of the platform software that has just enough features to allow business stakeholders (platform owners, potential users, strategic decision makers, etc.) to validate the platform idea and obtain feedback for future extensions and improvements before a full-scale launch (Gracia, 2022). Therefore MVP development focuses on creating a bare-bones version of a platform that can be tested and improved upon (Ries, 2011). This approach allows for faster and more cost-effective experimentation with new business models, reducing the risk of failure.
Presently, there are two approaches to developing an MVP. The first is to develop the MVP from scratch. This approach has disadvantages including the considerable amount of time it takes (Lynn, 2020) and the limited amount of documentation that is created (Adnan and Afzal, 2017). A second approach is using Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) tools for developing an MVP, like Sharetribe Go (Sharetribe, 2022) which supports the development of digital marketplaces and Ever Demand (Ever Corporation, 2022) which supports the development of on-demand platforms. Even though this approach shortens the time to development significantly, these tools only focus on one specific digital platform type and do not offer enough flexibility to develop a tailor-made MVP that fully addresses the needs of the business stakeholders of the digital platform initiative.
In previous research, we proposed a method for the development of platform-specific ontologies (Derave, Tiago Princes Sales, et al., 2022), and a method for ontology-driven Minimum Viable Platform (MVP) development (Derave, Tiago Prince Sales, et al., 2022). These methods entail MVP development in a four-step process (i.e., conceptualization, analysis, development and testing), which can be iterated until satisfactory results are obtained (Derave, Tiago Prince Sales, et al., 2022). An ontology is a formal representation of a set of concepts and their relationships within a specific domain (Guizzardi, 2005), and therefore provides a common vocabulary that facilitates creating a shared understanding of the domain. Each platform-specific ontology depends on the selection of desired platform properties and is a composition of different modules of the Digital Platform Ontology (DPO). By adding to the selected DPO modules, additional ontology modules from DPO’s Business Model Extension for the Sharing Economy (Derave et al., 2019), also business model choices (e.g., the pricing model) are specified in the platform-specific ontology that is created. Such platform-specific ontology thus translates the business stakeholders’ vision of the sharing platform and its business model into a set of requirements that specify the functionality of the platform software.
In this paper, we present an alternative to the use of these SaaS tools or developing an MVP from scratch. We address the feasibility to develop an MVP starting from an ontology and using a boilerplate application that ensures that individuals without programming skills can deliver the MVP. The boilerplate application is a ready-made platform software that can be used as a sandbox and easily be modified and customized to fit the specific needs of the platform business stakeholders. Therefore, it enables rapid application development using graphical user interfaces and pre-built components. It is designed to provide a solid foundation for building an MVP and includes a set of basic features and functionality, while also allowing for flexibility and customization depending on the selected properties of the platform. Consequently, decision-makers without any programming experience can steer the software development towards attaining sustainable objectives without incurring substantial costs or consuming a considerable amount of time, while still retaining the latitude to design the software in accordance with its original intent.
By utilizing MVP development, combined with the use of an ontology and our boilerplate application, sharing economy platforms can quickly and effectively test and implement new business models, expanding the reach of the sharing economy with a greater diversity in sustainable business models. Our approach concentrates on the development of an MVP, with a specific emphasis on the communication between the platform software developers and the platform business stakeholders throughout the development process. Due to DPO’s modular design, the ontology aids in the flexibility, scalability and reusability of the platform software, independent of the language or framework used. Furthermore, boilerplate and ontology-driven development simplify the process of platform prototyping and business model configuration, leading to a more rapid translation of ideas into an MVP, enabling faster validation and making the software more adaptive to the changing requirements over time.
To develop the ontology-driven MVP development method and boilerplate application, we follow the Design Science Research (DSR) method of (Peffers et al., 2008). Step one, the problem identification and motivation, as well as step two, the objectives for a solution, are already addressed in this abstract. For step three, design and development, we refer to the MVP development method online1 and to the first version of the boilerplate application that can be found on Github2. We are now in the middle of step four, a demonstration that includes several case studies of aspiring entrepreneurs who developed an MVP of their sharing platform idea using our method. These platform ideas are situated in various domains, including healthcare, employee allocation, fashion, and transportation. The entrepreneurs possessed limited understanding of software development, making them optimal candidates for validation of our approach, which facilitates the acquisition of all necessary knowledge from the DPO. In a last step we evaluate the MVP development method and boilerplate application by monitoring the MVP versions and improvements using GitHub classrooms and analyze the influence of the boilerplate application and ontology modifications on the eventual MVP software. Both single developers and teams were involved in the MVP development, to test the efficiency and communication improvement of our ontology-driven approach. Afterwards, the efficiency and perceived usefulness of our method was assessed using a questionnaire based on UTAUT (Unified Theory of Acceptance and Use of Technology) (Venkatesh et al., 2003), a theoretical framework to understand the factors that influence a user's acceptance and use of technology.
In conclusion, we believe an ontology and boilerplate application can have a substantial influence on MVP development and therefore holds great potential for the growth and sustainability of the sharing economy. By leveraging this approach, new initiatives can originate easily, and the sharing economy can continue to grow and evolve, bringing increased efficiency, adaptability, and sustainability to the way we access and use resources.
Sharing Economy, Software development, MVP, business models
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