Share and share alike

In summary: 
  • The sharing of houses, cars and services is taking off
  • The rise of the internet and social networking are supporting this cultural shift

In the space of a month, collaborative consumption – the movement to rent, lend, swap and barter rather than buy – featured on the front of both Forbes Magazine and The Economist.

“It is so cool to see the rise of #collcons #sharingeconomy,” social innovator and author Rachel Botsman tweeted to her 21,000 followers last month, after the cover stories.

Cool indeed. In the two years since Botsman and co-author Roo Rogers coined the term collaborative consumption in their book What’s Mine is Yours the practice has continued to grow across the globe.

TIME Magazine has identified collaborative consumption as one of 10 ideas that will change the world; while the two premier business journals have been documenting the rise of what many see as the economy of the 21st century, where the web remakes the old-fashioned concept of sharing for a new era.

The Economist highlighted San Francisco-based Airbnb, launched in 2008, to illustrate the movement’s reach. On one night last month 40,000 people rented accommodation from the service, which offers 250,000 rooms in 30,000 cities across 192 countries.

What sets it apart is that the beds were provided by private individuals, not hotels.

Some other proponents of the shared economy are familiar and established names – eBay and craigslist among them – but many are much smaller and still finding their feet.

Tim Fung is co-founder with Jonathan Lui, and chief executive of, the Sydney-based errands and odd jobs network Airtasker. “In certain categories collaborative consumption is an absolute no-brainer,” Fung says, citing house sharing, car sharing and services generally. “I don’t think it takes anyone too visionary to assume that.”

Fung says the Airtasker “community” comprises about 43,000 people and in its first 12 months it notched up more than 7000 jobs valued at about $600,000 (see separate story).

At the UTS Institute for Sustainable Futures, Dr Chris Riedy and Katie Ross examined six initiatives – Airtasker, Clothing Exchange, Freally, Jayride, Landshare and Open Shed – in the first part of their research into collaborative consumption.

Dr Riedy hopes the movement will take us “from a kind of economy based on credit and advertising and hyper-consumption to something based on sharing and reputation”. He says it’s still too early to say if collaborative consumption will be more than a fad, but “there are some fundamental drivers towards greater sharing – things like the creative commons movement, the rise of the internet and social networking are supporting a cultural shift towards greater sharing”.

Jayride, the ride sharing service established by New Zealand entrepreneurs Rod Bishop and Ross Lin in 2008, has achieved success on both sides of the Tasman and will be available in the UK and Ireland by mid-2013. It has 19,000 members and in December people were contacting each other at the rate of 175 a day.

Bishop says Jayride matched 629 passengers with drivers to attend last November’s Eclipse Festival in far north Queensland, an average trip of more than 1000 kilometres each way. “Versus the alternative of driving alone, this carpool avoided over 300 tonnes of potential CO₂ emissions,” he says.

A simpler example of this new way of trading is Crop & Swap in the lower Blue Mountains, where locals who love to grow or make their own food get together once a month to swap produce and gossip over a cup of tea.

But there must be more than a feel-good factor to drive the shared economy, says Dr Riedy, who is studying how entrepreneurs and innovators try to aid social and cultural change.

He wants to know “whether they have a strategy behind what they’re trying to do, or have they had a bright idea, got really excited and gone off and pursued it?”

“Sometimes that’s a good way to create change … but with some of these initiatives maybe a bit more thinking early on would have helped them achieve more,” he says.

Lauren Anderson, community director at the Collaborative Consumption Hub, has worked with Rachel Botsman for the past three years documenting “what works and what doesn’t”.

You know society has reached a tipping point, Anderson says, when big companies take notice, pointing to European car makers such as BMW, Daimler and Volkswagen, who want a piece of the sharing pie.

“Sharing behaviour is becoming more and more normal,” she says. “Technology is making it easier to find what you need online … making it easier to achieve critical mass.”

Airtasker
A community noticeboard online where users post a task, wait for would-be Airtaskers to bid to do it, then pay on completion.

Clothing Exchange
Sustainable fashion network where patrons donate clothing for exchange at clothes swapping events.

Freally
Recycling website where people post items they no longer need for new owners to collect.

Jayride
Carpooling network launched in New Zealand in 2008. Drivers list spare seats; potential passengers contact them to arrange a ride.

Landshare
Launched in the UK in 2009 to match people who have land with people wanting to grow food. In Australia, Canada on a smaller scale.

Open Shed
Rental site that shares tools, sporting goods and household items within local communities.

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