One of the reasons why I get excited about social media and ubiquitous connectivity is because of the potential to develop economies of sharing. Whether you realize it or not you already contribute to economies of sharing: for example, what finances many of the websites you visit is your ability to share information about yourself with advertisers who in turn pay for the content you consume. There are, though, more direct and explicit means by which we can use the internet to enable economies of sharing. Allow me to explain:
Imagine a Facebook app that requires you enter your city neighborhood as well as your skill. Your skill may be the fact that you are an accountant, bricklayer, life coach, masseuse, priest, personal trainer, cake baker, etc. You create supply by offering your services in time units of let’s say an hour. The demand for your services comes from your neighbors, and the way each person accesses free services is by supplying them. For example, if you contribute two hours of services to your neighbors you in turn earn two hours worth of credit you can use to access other services. Need a haircut? Help with your taxes? With a large large enough user base all of these services could be available to you free of charge.
How would such a system be governed? Similar to platforms like EBay and TripAdvisor, once your services are executed the person on the demand side validates the exchange and then provides you with a rating. You then have an incentive to deliver the service well. If you deliver good services to your neighbors over time, demand for your services will go up as will your ability to facilitate your lifestyle through interaction with those who live closest to you.
There are, of course, lots of problems that can result from this system, but like Ebay and TripAdvisor, many of those problems can be resolved by the same system which powers them to begin with: crowd sourcing. Others might suggest that the net impact on the economy could be negative because services people might otherwise pay for would be supplied for free. I disagree with this assumption because it doesn’t take into account that the sudden availability of services would lead to an increase in demand, both free and paid. Maybe you didn’t realize how much you needed a massage, for example, until you got one for free (music industry take note).
At this point it’s worth remembering that the potential for such economies of sharing were possible in the pre-social media age. What’s different now however is that it’s easier for each one of us to find each other, connect, and to give. As I’ve mentioned in other posts, the benefit of online interactivity is only as powerful as its ability to provoke offline action. We share a lot online now: our challenge, therefore, is to convert our online good will into offline good will and diminish the distance between our intentions and our will. When everyone gives a little we may surprise ourselves with how radically we can change the world for the better.