So, the ‘shareconomy’ – that means we’ll all be knitting socks in a commune soon, right? Don’t fret, it’s nothing so unsexy as that. Simply put, most of us have things we don’t use and skills we could share. Enter, stage right, the internet, which makes it possible to lend things to others, sometimes for a fee, sometimes just for the vibes, man. And even when there is a charge, it’s usually less than using a traditional service.
Want to get started? Simply list something – anything from a spare room to your pet — on the right website and people will contact you to borrow it. Sites such as Economy Of Hours take the peer-to-peer spirit further, letting you trade your skills and time for the same in return. And lo! A new spirit of community is born. It’s what the internet was invented for.
There was a time when a cheap room meant Premier Inn and hiring a car meant Enterprise. But now, everyday folk on the internet have flats, cars, and all kinds of other stuff that they’re willing to lend. “Sharing has been around forever,” explains Nathan Blecharczyk, co-founder of Airbnb, the pioneering site that lets you rent a room in someone else’s home. “It’s just that in the last 50 years people have accumulated so much stuff that they’re not using it all. Now, technology is making it possible for them to share it.”
Websites can match owners to borrowers, online payment systems allow people to stump up cash, and social networks let everyone check they can trust one another. This is the sharing economy – and if you’re not using it yet, you probably soon will be.
The whole thing sounds a lot like re-branded renting, but advocates rightly point to a few subtle differences. “Three things mark out a successful sharing economy company,” explains Blecharczyk. “One, the technology has to remove friction from the transaction, to make it easier. Two, there needs to be some degree of financial arbitrage. And three, it has to be a community, it has to be fun. It can’t just be about the money. That’s the secret sauce.”
Add to the mix the fact that shareconomy services are often good for the environment, because they minimise wasteful purchases, and it seems an irresistible prospect. It’s certainly working for Airbnb: launched in 2008, the site now offers users over 500,000 places to stay in 34,000 cities around the world.
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It’s not just about finding a taker for your spare room, though. American sites such as RelayRides have created peer-to-peer car rental services, Uber – and its cheaper UberX offshoot – has pioneered a new kind of taxi service by matching willing drivers to wanting passengers, and TaskRabbit allows people to farm out chores. It’s all great value, too. “UberX in London is 30-40% cheaper than a black cab,” explains Corey Owens, Head of Global Public Policy at Uber. “For a long time people didn’t realise it was possible to make services that cheap and provide someone with a living wage.”
Business is booming. In fact, Lauren Anderson from Collaborative Consumption, an independent research organisation specialising in peer-to-peer markets, is “comfortable valuing the sharing economy globally as worth in the region of US$100 billion.”