How connectivity is revolutionizing everything

Stuff: Access trumps ownership

by Katie Fehrenbacher

Owning stuff is so yesterday. The future of goods — from cars to apartments to tools — is all about access, and this new service-based sharing economy will use broadband as a platform.

The sharing economy has quietly been around for years on the web. EBay, Craigslist and other pioneers built the foundation of so-called “collaborative consumption,” leveraging the Internet to help people resell, share or give away stuff. These companies took their fair share of arrows in their backs over the years as they helped users slog through security and privacy concerns and payment issues.

But now, a new kind of startup has emerged in recent years, taking what these older companies learned and expanding on the lessons, looking to provide an Internet sharing economy that relies on mobile, social networking, and a virtual sense of community.

Car sharing is one of the most well-known of these collaborative consumption sectors. Zipcar is about a decade old, and newer peer-to-peer car sharing companies — like RelayRides, Getaround and HiGear — have emerged more recently. The idea is that the car is one of the most expensive and underutilized assets people own, and in urban environments, ownership has become increasingly unsustainable. Why not make it a service and create a network of car-owning entrepreneurs?

Car sharing is also considered the gateway drug of collaborative consumption: Once people try it, they often want to participate in the sharing of other goods. Apartment-sharing is another big trend, and Airbnb is the poster child of the companies trying to disrupt the hotel industry by providing a way for people to rent out their homes. (Airbnb CEO Brian Chesky will talk about what he has learned at GigaOM RoadMap.)

Other startups are looking to create niche communities around a specific set of shared goods. ThredUp — a sharing community around baby clothes — and Toygaroo, which is a service for baby toys, are good examples of companies tapping into a previously unmet need. (Baby stuff is temporal, i.e., kids grow up fast). Still, other startups are looking to create a virtual neighborhood around actual neighborhoods, and catalyze the sharing that comes with such a geographical community.

Perhaps our favorite part about collaborative consumption is that it’s a more efficient way to use goods. Fewer goods will be made if people can efficiently share them; car sharing leads to fewer cars owned and less gas burned. We look forward to the day when excessive consumption morphs into collaborative consumption and people only buy and own what they really need.