The new sharing economy |

The new sharing economy

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As we've covered in many posts, a lot of new businesses and projects are springing up around sharing in various ways. Car sharing services, Kiva, Kickstarter, coworking--the list goes on. Technology has fueled the opportunity for us to get out of our houses and back into communities with one another. Some of the people working on the "new sharing economy," as they described it, gathered at SXSW to talk about how this shift to sharing is changing the way we work and live together as a society.

Neal Gorenflo, publisher of Shareable Magazine, moderated. He started off the panel by talking about where he's staying during SXSW. Rather than an impersonal hotel, he's staying in The Tiny Pink Mansion, a unique and really charming place he found through AirBnB, a site for sharing and locating extra space for rent.

Latitude, a research consultancy, conducted a study with Shareable on this sharing economy. (Download the full report.) The study was created to gauge attitudes around sharing, whether it's casual with friends or formalized through a service. Participants who reported sharing online were also more likely to share offline, and relationships built online made people more likely to share with those people offline. Further, 85% of the respondents said web and mobile technologies would be critical to scaling up these sharing communities.

Gorenflo asked about motive--are people doing it to be good, or is there personal motivation. The top two cited benefits, selected by 2/3 of participants, were seemingly at odd with each other: that it was good for society and that it saves money. When you combine personal and altruistic benefits, Kim Gaskins of Latitude said, you hit the sweet spot of motivation. But what are we sharing?

Car sharing is one of the most commonly known peer rental opportunities. Cars are leading the sharing movement because they're so central to our lives, as well as expensive to buy and to maintain. Gorenflo called car sharing the "gateway drug" to other sharing.

Gorenflo then turned to John Zimmer, who founded Zimride, a carpooling service. Zimride is conquering one of the biggest challenges to sharing services, which is the concerns related to safety. Zimride is a seemingly threatening service. Most people would consider hitchhiking dangerous, and what's an anonymous rideshare but renamed hitchhiking? Zimmer asked how many would be willing to take a ride from an anonymous person on Craigslist, and nobody in the audience was willing. But Zimride is more like the college ride board. It's a ride from a friend of a friend, whose picture you can see, and you know a little about people before you get in a car with them.

The next big challenge is our personal attachment to things. Dori Graff is co-founder of Itizen, which helps attach digital content to physical objects. She said, "Our relationship to things has more to do with our experience with things and the people connected to them and less to do with the physical property." In other words, we want the music of a CD, not the CD itself. And in terms of objects like that, which take up a lot of space and quickly become expensive (including in terms of storage) to own, we live in a digital time that can help solve that.

Punsri Abeywickrema, founder of, is working on that problem as well. He mentioned one study that said the average house has $3,000 worth of items lying around unused taking up space. Ebay says the global secondary market is a $500 billion market. There's a lot of opportunity to share things we don't need to own.

Try sharing

Maybe you've tried a car share or stayed in an AirBnB room. But there might be other ways you haven't shared. Try one of these:


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About the author

Ruth Suehle - Ruth Suehle is the community leadership manager for Red Hat's Open Source and Standards team. She's co-author of Raspberry Pi Hacks (O'Reilly, December 2013) and a senior editor at GeekMom, a site for those who find their joy in both geekery and...