In the Internet era, digital flea markets and bartering sites abound, with reviews and other feedback mechanisms on sites such as Craigslist and eBay offering both a form of collaboration and a digital take on the Old World bazaar, Quinn says. The same goes for vacation rental sites such as VRBO and FlipKey, which in addition to rentals offer users the chance to trade a week on their own property home for a week at someone else's.
"We may have digitized this economic model, but the model remains largely the same. What has changed is the inclusion level," Quinn says. "Anybody with an Internet connection can opt into being included." If anything, he says, what's happening is a "collaborative exchange."
Participants Must Weigh Value Against Transaction Costs
Not surprisingly, the economics and practicalities of sharing vary tremendously by the type of asset, the market, and the way in which that asset can be charged, according to Forrester analyst Ted Schadler. Individuals must consider the value and the transaction costs — that is, it more expensive to conduct the transaction (including mitigating any risk) than it's worth?
Borrow a mixer from your neighbor, Schadler says, and the transaction "cost" is walking next door to get it and then owing the neighbor a favor. Use an online service to rent a mixer, meanwhile, and you pay the cost of picking it up and dropping it off. "It might be worth it; it might not."
Schadler cautions that borrowers should note the transaction costs before proceeding. The Internet dramatically lowers the transaction cost of publishing the availability of your asset and finding the asset you want. Assets will be shared in a so-called collaborative economy when the transaction costs are lower than the value derived. This means consumers should (and can) rank the categories based on the value of the asset and the transaction cost of renting the asset.
If Collaborative Economy's Easy, No Reason It Can't Catch On
What makes the sharing economy unique, Solis says, is its evolution. With evolution comes simplicity, and with simplicity comes commodity and approachability — suddenly, everyone has something to contribute without building or learning a complex infrastructure.
The same goes for anyone seeking alternatives to mainstream commercial products. When people have the option to earn extra income, or save by using instead of consuming — all in an informed, frictionless exchange and without giving it a second thought — this trend can only be expected to expand and disrupt.
"I don't believe that a strict person-to-person digital commerce environment will arise to remake our economy much more than the Internet has already disrupted the global economy and the business models, [since] the increase in P2P exchanging doesn't obviate the need to produce the original product or service," Quinn says. "Next time someone texts you to stop by a neighbor's garage sale, or next time you have a friend pick up your kid from school while you get the takeout for both families' dinner, you can say, 'Hey, I'm participating in the Collaborative Economy.'"
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