From couches and apartments to bicycles and cars, all manner of personal items and possessions are now in circulation as part of the booming sharing economy.
Built on a premise of peer-to-peer exchanges of personal items or services, the sharing economy is a platform that provides access to said items or services (sometimes for a set period of time) meaning users avoid having to procure them outright. The online landscape is bursting with portals of so-called collaborative consumption where people can list items that they wish to rent out or borrow such as bicycles, cars, apartments and even parking spaces.
It all began with an airbed
The boom in the sharing economy was unofficially kickstarted in 2008 when Brian Chesky and Joe Gebbia decided to offer a place to sleep (on an air bed on their floor) in their San Francisco apartment to people attending an industrial design conference taking place in their city. Initially done to earn some fast cash to pay the bills, the venture proved popular and shortly after, Chesky and Gebbia set up a dedicated domain, Airbnb, allowing people from all over the world to offer accommodation in their living quarters for an affordable fee.
The key driving force behind the sharing economy is perceived value, with price-conscious customers seeking out more wallet-friendly alternatives to items on offer in the standard retail market. Some outlets of the sharing economy are free (such as Couchsurfing where travellers can stay on a host’s couch for free) while others are based on financial transactions (such as Airbnb).
The ability to monetise the use of idle resources has led to a string of micro-entrepreneurs, people who have created an income stream by regularly hiring out their goods or services via the sharing economy.
Benefits to the environment
Though not primarily driven by environmental goals, the sharing economy poses manifold benefits to the environment, encouraging people to reuse or recycle goods rather than source new ones. Resources can be used more efficiently and having access to a good or service can often negate the need to take ownership of a product, thereby saving on materials and energy needed to produce a product from scratch.
Take books for example. Approximately 24 books are made for every tree felled. Loaning or selling your books significantly reduces the impact of books on the environment.
Should I or shouldn’t I?
For every pro, there is of course a con. If something goes wrong, there is of course the question of who is liable? Questions of liability and insurance become increasingly important when entering car or apartment sharing agreements. This is still a bit of a grey area. Some of the bigger portals, like Airbnb, offer damages and liability cover however a lot of the smaller portals for services such as car and ride sharing absolve themselves of liability via disclaimers and advise participants to clarify questions of liability and insurance among themselves on a per-deal basis.
Trust is also a key factor when deciding to take part in the sharing economy. Unlike established brands, individuals loaning or selling online don’t necessarily have the track record to prove that they are providing a quality service or product. To counter this, many sharing economy websites provide a function where sellers or users are rated by those who have undertaken transactions with them.
The sharing economy and India
On a local scale, the sharing economy is very much in its infancy in India. Services offering accommodation, ridesharing and book swapping are gathering momentum in the online world and more are developing all the time. Below are a few portals allowing you to get in on the sharing spirit:
Bookswapping via BookChums. Kind of like an online library, book swapping allows you to loan your books out temporarily or browse the site for books that others are willing to loan.
Carpooling/ridesharing via Carpooling, Carpool and Pool My Car. Got a few spare seats in your car during your morning commute? Why not offer them to others heading in the same direction? Car pooling cuts the number of cars on the road which has countless benefits for the environment (as well as cutting down traffic) and you can even save some cash by asking participants to pitch in for gas.
Online secondhand goods exchange via Freecycle. Freecycle models have been around on the internet since well before Airbnb pushed the sharing economy into its boom phase. Participants can use the Freecycle portal to give away or procure all manner of second hand goods such as furniture, clothes and gardening equipment.
Find or offer accommodation. Airbnb has operations in India and is constantly expanding while CouchSurfing could be an option for the more budget-conscious traveller.
Rent or borrow a bicycle. Bicycle sharing in India had travelled a bit of a rocky road. The organisation Cycle Chalao tried to get a scheme off the ground in 2010 however it never really took off and was abandoned. In Bangalore, Kerberon Automations works with the Government of Karnataka to operate the ATCAG bicycle share program.
Sources and links: