Sharing of things and services is as old as human mankind. Why? Because it makes sense. Take sharing of agricultural tools in farming communities. For ages, farmers have shared ploughs to work their land. Single farmers only needed them for a couple of weeks each year. They could easily take turns in such a way that every community member was able to prepare their land in time. Without each of them privately owning all of the equipment.
In our era of hyper-consumption, we seem to have forgotten about the common sense of sharing. We all own that power drill for the average of three holes we drill with it each year. The mantra of individual ownership makes us “over-equip” our households, our offices and our lives.
But there is hope. Collaborative consumption initiatives are on the rise. Boosted by social media, environmental awareness and economic instability, that encourages people to look for ways to cut on their spending.
“Collaborative Consumption” is a term coined by Rachel Botsman and Roo Rogers in their bestselling book What’s Mine Is Yours. They call it a worldwide “groundswell” whereby “the old stigmatized C’s associated with ‘sharing’—cooperatives, collectives, and communes—are being refreshed and reinvented into appealing and valuable forms of collaboration and community.” As they explain: “Every day people are using Collaborative Consumption—traditional sharing, bartering, lending, trading, renting, gifting, and swapping, redefined through technology and peer communities.”
A few examples:
• Personal home space: Couchsurfing.org (a volunteer-based worldwide network connecting travellers with members of local communities, who offer free accommodation and/or advice), BNB/Airbnb (book bed and breakfast facilities directly at the owner):
• Hire someone to do tasks: Taskrabbit.com (gets you in touch with people who can help you with daily tasks like grocery delivery, shopping, office help, house cleaning. You post a task and Taskrabbits will make an offer. You pay when your task is done).
• Car sharing: Zipcar.com (an alternative to car ownership, the worlds largest car sharing and car service club), Snappcar.nl (car service in a snap connecting passengers, drivers and local bases), Zimriding.com (rideshare and carpool community), Greenwheels.nl (Dutch central-structured car sharing company).
• Food : RestovanHarte.nl (a Dutch chain of 30 local restaurants run by volunteers. Research shows that one in three persons feels lonely. The mission of Resto is to bring people together on a neighbourhood level, serving meals for €3-6.
Lourish.com (a UK site that makes it easy to swap fruit, veg, seeds, eggs, jam, chutney and more, with others in your region. By signing up Brits can create a home grown, hyperlocal fresh food network with the click of a mouse).
Centralized commercial sharing systems coexist with decentralized or distributed peer-to-peer initiatives, both profit and non-profit. In terms of social design and sustainism, the latter (decentralized and distributed P2P solutions) are most interesting because of the benefits on an individual, community and collective level.
One of the key factors of the success of collaborative consumption from a personal point of view is the low barrier access and direct reward: you immediately save on your (household) spending and you give a boost to your social life, linking up to (new) people and being an active part of different communities.
From a collective perspective the benefits are clear as well. Sharing builds communities and community is an essential part of society. And it helps communities and societies to move away from hyper-consumption and individual ownership towards more sustainable values and actions patterns.
What design principles and features can take sharing to the next level?
Here are some first observations:
• Web-based plug and play applications for all types of players in the sharing ecosystem: enabling all necessary participants in a sharing ecosystem to connect, plan and act in a simple and secure way. For example, the Snappcar web-based application provides passengers, drivers and local bases with easy-to-use software to join in the ecosystem. New bases can pop up everywhere, creating an extra node in a semi-decentralized or distributed structure. Making it possible for new passengers and drivers to connect to these new nodes.
• Design for trustful situations in the maze:
Trust, as a relational concept, is the most important currency in sharing ecosystems. Trusting others means taking risks. Web-based community initiatives have the power to make people interact and make transactions on the basis of minimal information. It combines institutional trust (“I trust the LinkedIn corporation”) and interpersonal trust (“I trust you, in the context of LinkedIn”). It seems easy to design a trustful environment that enables complete strangers to sleep on each other’s couches or take a 1,000-kilometre car ride with someone they do not know. But what can you, as a designer, do to contribute to the design of a situation in which trust can flow like a perpetual motion? Some keywords might be: co-ownership, transparency and meaningful connections, making it possible for participants to constantly recharge their levels of trust in the maze.
The thoughts and observations mentioned above are only a small fragment of the rich experience (social) designers and innovators have on the topic. Please join us in answering the following questions: How might we design to encourage more sharing and open exchange? What would happen if shareability would be taken as a design criterion? How might we bring shareable assets into the design process for products, services, environments, and situations? Don’t hesitate to contribute and take Design for Sharing to the next level.
Bas Ruyssenaars, OpenSustainistDesign.com