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An Introduction to Online Platforms and Their Role in the Digital Transformation

image of An Introduction to Online Platforms and Their Role in the Digital Transformation

Online platforms support so many of our daily activities that we have become dependent on them in our personal and professional lives. We rely on them to buy and sell goods and services, to find information online and to keep in touch with each other. We use them for entertainment, news, transportation, accommodation, finding jobs and employees, finding apps and for many other purposes. Online platforms have also raised new and important policy questions, but the businesses themselves can be more complex than they appear so they are not always well understood. This report contains detailed profiles of twelve of the world’s leading platform companies and derives insights from those profiles about what platforms actually do, how they do it, and why they succeed financially. For example, the report finds that although platforms tend to have a number of economic characteristics in common, they also vary so greatly that they cannot be compartmentalised into just a few categories, let alone a single sector. Moreover, they do not all succeed for the same reasons. In addition, although the major Chinese platforms still have a low profile within the OECD, they are in the process of expanding globally and deserve more attention.

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What is an “online platform”?

The term “online platform” has been used to describe a range of services available on the Internet including marketplaces, search engines, social media, creative content outlets, app stores, communications services, payment systems, services comprising the so-called “collaborative” or “gig” economy, and much more. In this report, an online platform is defined as a digital service that facilitates interactions between two or more distinct but interdependent sets of users (whether firms or individuals) who interact through the service via the Internet. This chapter explains that definition and presents some economic characteristics that are common among online platforms.

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