Decisions under Uncertainty in Decentralized Online Markets: Empirical Studies of Peer-to-Peer Lending and Outsourcing

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Recent developments in information technologies, especially Web 2.0 technologies, have radically transformed many markets through disintermediation and decentralization. Lower barriers of entry in these markets enable small firms and individuals to engage in transactions that were otherwise impossible. Yet, the issues of informational asymmetry that plague traditional markets still arise, only to be exacerbated by the "virtual" nature of these marketplaces. The three essays of my dissertation empirically examine how participants, many of whom are entrepreneurs, tackle the issue of asymmetric information to derive benefits from trade in two different contexts. In Essay 1, I investigate the role of online social networks in mitigating information asymmetry in an online peer-to-peer lending market, and find that the relational dimensions of these networks are especially effective for this purpose. In Essay 2, I exploit a natural experiment in the same marketplace to study the effect of shared geographical ties on investor decisions, and find that "home bias" is not only robust but also has an interesting interaction pattern with rational decision criteria. In Essay 3, I study how the emergence of new contract forms, enabled by new monitoring technologies, changes the effectiveness of traditional signals that affect a buyers' choice of sellers in online outsourcing. Using a matched-sample approach, I show that the effectiveness of online ratings and certifications differs under pay-for-time contracts versus pay-for-deliverable contracts. In all, the three essays of my dissertation present new empirical evidence of how agents leverage various network ties, signals and incentives to facilitate transactions in decentralized online markets, form transactional ties, and reap the benefits enabled by the transformative power of information technologies.