This past weekend, Shareable hosted an unconference called SHARE SF at Hub SoMa, a coworking space for social entrepreneurs in San Francisco (where TriplePundit has their virtual office). Both the venue and the city were apt choices as the Bay Area is a hotspot for the sharing or access economy or, as Lisa Gansky calls it, The Mesh. This emerging economy of collaborative consumption and sharing platforms (currently over 3,800) rejects the notion that we all need to own a house, a car or a $300 kitchen mixer that we use once a year, and instead promotes that we share and find ways to avoid burying ourselves in debt by spending money we don’t have. What a concept!
This represents a movement towards access over ownership, a reassigning of real (how you feel about something) versus perceived (what the ad tells you to feel) value to things and experiences, and an emphasis on relationships, reputation and trust. Here’s what a dip in the access economy might look like: you’re at TechShop teaching someone from the local time bank how to make a robotic arm when you realize that the dry cleaner will be closed before you get home so you log onto TaskRabbit and find someone in your neighborhood to pick it up for you. You’ll need wheels to get your date and make it to that Grubly dinner you scheduled so you reserve a neighbor’s car on Getaround. Good thing you rented that glockenspiel from Simon in 3C using Rentalic! Your impending serenade will be the evening’s clincher…until you mention that yacht you’re renting from a millionaire in Marin through JustShareIt for your next date!
What are the benefits of this shared way of life? In the US and Europe, the average car is used eight percent of the day. When you consider insurance costs, maintenance costs and gas prices, owning a car seems like a hefty investment for something that mostly sits on a street, unused. Why not rent someone else’s vehicle or rent your own to others and cover some of those costs? Beyond the financial burden, sharing means less material consumed (owning products we need once in a blue moon) and less value lost (value unused = waste). And of course, there’s the opportunity to connect with someone in your community during this transaction.
The unconference featured engaging presentations from the aforementioned collaborative consumption platforms and more, as well as an afternoon filled with inspiring breakout sessions on a variety of participant-generated topics. A few of the challenges we explored were:
- Legal issues. Some of these innovative models are entering ambiguous legal territory. Luckily The Sustainable Economies Law Center is working hard to raise awareness and change laws that create barriers to the access economy (and they’re doing it with humor – check out the videos featured on the site).
- Infrastructure. How do we connect the existing platforms? How do we reach the communities that really need them? In the true spirit of sharing, these platforms are engaging in coopetition, looking for ways to partner so that they can cross-promote. One suggestion to bring these groups offline is to iterate the Sonoma model: Share Exchange. This is like community center 2.0 where the various organizations and platforms in the access economy can come together under one roof. Having these exchanges in different neighborhoods would also ensure access for communities who don’t have the luxury of the Internet to discover or use these platforms but need them. Also mentioned was the fact that San Francisco has a significant number of empty real estate spaces (thanks, conventional economy!) so now a taskforce will be working to map these spaces and see if the access economy players can use them to push forth this model.To boot, as more and more platforms emerge that use reputational currency, we might even begin to see one reputational username across all platforms (eBay, Yelp!, Amazon, etc.) to strengthen trust.
- Awareness, education and behavior change.Clearly everyone at SHARE SF was on board with this concept, but how do we make the case to the skeptics? Like your uncle in Idaho with the potbelly who loves Applebee’s and his weekend getaway at Walmart? Here’s where I get really excited:
- Awareness: I say, meet them where they are. Literally. Develop partnerships within and beyond the access economy. If you’re trying to capture car-share users, partner with mechanics and look for ways to create value like “RelayRides members get 10% off”. My brother and sister-in-law were referred to neigh*borrow by their landlord – what a great gatekeeper evangelist! Also think about conventional places that are really about sharing – like laundromats – and find a way to partner with them.
- Education: What is holding people back from engaging with the access economy and how can we extinguish those concerns? For example, micro lending has become an access economy phenomenon but people might be afraid that the loan recipients will default. Mission Asset Fund, a credit building loan program for low-income individuals, has been in operation since 2007 and has a zero default rate. The idea is that when people have made a commitment to a person, rather than a faceless bank, they follow-through on their word. Trust begets trust and success stories like this need to be told.
- Behavior change. Whenever you’re presenting something new, there will be resistance because as much as we’re exposed to constant change, opting for change is difficult for a lot of people. For this reason, I think that storytelling and tryvertising – a cross between advertising and product promotion – are key to bridging this gap.Unique experiences lead to memories that make people want to share stories. Having collaborative consumers tell friends about the ridiculous object they found in a car, or their drill rental that resulted in a cool, new friend or that delicious and fun dinner they attended makes a difference. Access economy platforms should capture and share these stories while also generating them. What if car-share vehicles provided guestbooks in which users could share experiences with the owner and other renters?Tryvertising allows potential users to try or experience the product or service before committing. Sometimes people’s preconceived notions of what something will be like prevent them from actually doing it. Removing barriers with free trials or irresistible promotions could help attract a new user base.
As one participant suggested, we rely too much on information and data to the neglect of experiences. If you’re interested in learning more about the access economy, look for a 2011 SHARE event in your city on Shareable or watch the livestream from SHARE SF. Better yet, just get out there and start using these platforms, and don’t forget to share your stories!
Ali Hart is a sustainable communications and engagement strategist with a passion for behavior change, collaboration and storytelling. Her background in the Entertainment industry, penchant for humor and MBA in Sustainable Management from Presidio Graduate School are Ali’s secret weapons in her quest to make sustainability inconveniently fun.