Welcome To The Sharing Economy

Owning? Sharing might be better for you in the long run.

We’re always recommending you move your unwanted goods out the door, decluttering both your thoughts and your living space – but what if there’s a more socially useful and profitable thing to do with your unwanted belongings? Why not rent them out?

Welcome to the Sharing Economy. It’s here, it’s everywhere and it’s seemingly unstoppable. What is it? In the words of Roger Yu of USA Today:

“…this movement represents the newly cemented intersection of online social networking, mobile technology, the minimalist movement and heightened penny-pinching brought on by lingering economic uncertainties.”

If you have something of value to another person – an item, a skill, a place in your car on the way to work, a spare stretch of driveway, a room for the night – you have your very own tradeable commodity to offer in an increasing number of tightly focused digital marketplaces. The most famous examples are of course Ebay and Craigslist (arguably the founders of the movement), and it’s taken a while for investors to see the potential in supporting niche markets and for the arrival of technology that makes such ventures affordable and sustainable.

But look at the number of companies successfully embracing this philosophy right now. Airbnb and Roomarama for booking private accomodation. Zimride for filling someone’s unused car seat in their commute to work. RelayRides or Getaround for booking a car to get to & from work. Parkcirca or Parkatmyhouse to make use of someone’s spare driveway space. Loosecubes to grab unused office space. TaskRabbit for running just about every type of household errand you can think of.

Or how about Dopios? It’s a new startup designed to put travelers in touch with regional expertise. Want a tour guide with decades of local knowledge? Want to experience a traditional local meal? How about a beginner’s language lesson? Log into the site, browse through the registered locals  and book an experience, tailored for your comfort. Its current focus is Athens, Greece but it’s shortly expanding to San Francisco, London, Istanbul and Rio de Janeiro.

As with eBay, the service providers take a cut – but the rest of the revenue goes into the pockets of the people doing the work, providing them with an unusual source of supplementary income. In places hard-hit by economic woes, that could be the difference between struggling and keeping it together. Does it discourage spending, a big no-no for the governments of faltering economies? Not so, says Rob Atkinson, an economist & president of The Information Technology & Innovation Foundation:

“People can now spend on things that are of value to them,” he says. “Why buy a chain saw when you use it once a year? If we share a chain saw, we have the value of having a chain saw, and we use the money to create jobs in other industries. So the economy is better off.”

And a further requirement of using these services is trust, on both sides.  That’s why these companies rely so heavily on social networks – it may be easy to set up a Facebook or Twitter account, but it’s difficult to fake the web footprint of a legitimate internet user. Nevertheless, all companies have security measures in place. (In the case of Dopios, all locals are interviewed in person by the site administrators).

And if the net result is that huge numbers of people learn that strangers can be trusted…that’s certainly a message worth sharing.

Further reading: America’s New Business Model: Sharing – Roger Yu, USA Today.

Image: idleformat,

Mike Sowden

Mike Sowden is a freelance writer based in the north of England, obsessed with travel, storytelling and terrifyingly strong coffee. He has written for online & offline publications including Mashable, Matador Network and the San Francisco Chronicle, and his work has been linked to by Lonely Planet, World Hum and Lifehacker. If all the world is a stage, he keeps tripping over scenery & getting tangled in the curtain - but he's just fine with that.