CBS mapping online platforms

/ Author: Masja de Ree
© Hollandse Hoogte / Inge Yspeert Fotografie
Nowadays, a part of our lives takes place on digital platforms. These include social media sites (Instagram, Facebook or Twitter), but also platforms for economic activities. Platforms such as Uber, Airbnb, Spotify and Marktplaats serve as intermediaries between providers and users of a particular product or service. CBS is taking steps to construct a clearer picture of these online platforms in the framework of its research programme ‘Adequate measuring of the economy’.

Online platforms

CBS researcher Nico Heerschap explains: ‘An online platform acts as an intermediary between the provider and the user of a product or service. Online platforms play a role in more and more areas of society. They involve providers and users of car rides, sleeping spaces, meals, music, games or neighbourly help, but they might also involve companies exchanging knowledge on innovations, for example.’ These online activities potentially have a very broad impact: ‘For instance, they may create a wider range of options for selection and comparison as well as more convenience and consumer price reductions. Companies can position themselves directly, incur lower transaction costs and gain more opportunity for innovation and collaboration.’

Objective statistical data

According to Heerschap, the rapid development of such online platforms brings with it particular challenges. They may jeopardise fair competition with existing companies, for instance. There is also some concern about the employment status of people working with online platforms. ‘On the one hand, the new jobs created by these platforms match the needs of particular groups in society, and contribute to further flexibilisation of the labour market. On the other hand, this may have an effect on working conditions currently in force. For this reason, there is a high level of interest and regular qualitative research is being conducted on this topic. Objective statistical data are still lacking, however. We don’t know how many platforms there are, how many people and companies are using them, or how much money is involved. This is something CBS is trying to address.’

Step by step

Over the past year, Heerschap and his colleagues have worked on the definitions: what exactly is a platform, and what is the related key terminology? ‘The next step is trying to assess how many platforms there are. This is not information which we can simply derive from our business registers. Platforms could be included in any branch of industry. Is Uber a taxi or a technology company? Another example: Airbnb has no office in the Netherlands, but is a prominent market player. This makes things rather complicated.’ CBS is working to build a better picture of the existing platform population. Available populations - already compiled by others - are being integrated. ‘These are by no means exhaustive, however. This is why we explore running internet searches with a so-called web Scraper, a program for targeted searches on the internet to retrieve specifically relevant information.’

‘We are trying to assess how many online platforms there are. This is not information which we can simply derive from our business registers.’


Running in parallel with the compiling of an online platform population, CBS is studying research possibilities and collecting more information from the internet. Heerschap expects a pilot of the questionnaire for this purpose to be introduced by the end of this year: ‘This questionnaire is being developed in collaboration with our partners: the Ministry of Economic Affairs (which has commissioned research on the platform economy), TNO (partner of CBS in studying the influence of online activities on the labour market), the European Union (where there is a great information need in this area) as well as planning agencies and universities.’

Mapping the basis

Obviously, there is more to online platforms than the platforms themselves, as they involve the users and providers of products and services. Heerschap on this subject: ‘This complicates the matter, as a survey among companies running a platform says nothing about the motives of the user and the provider. ‘It’s important to first map the basis: to lay down definitions, identify a first population, and study which types of companies are involved. We need to have the objective data available before we can conduct proper research on the motives and effects.’