Social media is most commonly thought of as an experience based around the idea of sharing. Every day, millions of people share content, opinions, insight, experience, and media with their friends, coworkers, family, and acquaintances. Sharing, in essence, has become the backbone of what the social media experience is about.
But as our digital lives become more centered on the idea of sharing information, we’re beginning to see a new trend: people using online platforms to share possessions, services, physical space, personal time, and other non-digital goods. While the first decade of the millennium was about sharing digital goods, this decade will be about sharing everything else.
Welcome to the new world of collaborative consumption.
The idea of sharing has always been simple, but the actual act of sharing is a complex mix of logistics, trust, and strength of social ties. For most of us, it’s always been easier to buy something, use it when necessary, and store it away than to try to share.
But one of the major breakthroughs driving change is that social networking and social media have made it possible to overcome the traditional barriers of sharing: the risk associated with lending out our possessions to others. As we’ve learned through sales-based peer-to-peer sites like eBay, participants’ feedback and recommendations are trusted by the majority of the population as a way to legitimise a transaction with someone they’ve never met.
In the last few years, peer to peer share and rental networks such as NeighborGoods, Zilok, airbnb, Share Some Sugar, and ecoSharing.net have all unlocked the possibility for anyone to share or rent things directly, whether it’s a power drill collecting dust in the garage, a spare bedroom to a traveler, or a mountain bike for the weekend.
The enticement of saving money by borrowing instead of purchasing, or making money renting something going unutilised is creating a large increase of people looking to capitalise on the idea of sharing. It seems as if peer-to-peer sharing has hit its tipping point.
How big is this new market of peer-to-peer sharing? While there are no global figures, the peer-to-peer rental market of goods is estimated to be around $36 billion dollars in the US and growing. JWTI 100 Things to Watch in 2011 picked peer-to-peer micro-businesses as number 51 on their list and peer-to-peer car sharing as number 71. A joint study by Latitude and Sharable Magazine found that 75% of respondents predicted their sharing of physical objects and spaces will increase in the next 5 years.
Is sharing for everyone and everything in a culture of ownership and single-use products? The answer is no. But as social networks and peer-to-peer exchange hubs build stronger online communities to facilitate sharing, and the global recession and environmental concerns have people second-guessing consumption as king, there will no doubt be a growing place in the near future for the sharing economy.