Sharing The Mesh
In January of this year, the car rental company Avis jumped onto the sharing bandwagon by acquiring ZipCar. This summer, Citi Bike (bikeshare) has finally launched in New York City. The past few years have been big for sharing, or as some brand it, “collaborative consumption.” In September of 2010 two different books were published within ten days of one another: Lisa Gansky’s The Mesh: Why the Future of Business is Sharing and Rachel Botsman’s What’s Mine is Yours: The Rise of Collaborative Consumption. Coincidence?
Mobile technology has played a big role in changing societal views of redundant, infrequently used and expensive private goods. Thirteen years ago when ZipCar was first launched by two women from Boston whose children went to the same kindergarden, the technology of choice was very manual: clipboards and lock boxes. Today, that is no longer a limiting factor. As Om Malik of Gigaom writes:
“The Internet changed a generation’s expectations of consumer services. But the emergence of the iPhone (first) and Android allowed companies such as ZipCar to create an efficient car-sharing ecosystem, challenge the established guard and grow like a weed.”
Well, perhaps less like an invasive species and more like a super-connected superorganism. If ants have pheromones to emanate needs and direction, we’re armed with the internet, a magic portal for individual citizens to function as their own business with minimal time or monetary investment.
In a grim economic climate, prudent creativity has allowed some shrewd companies to turns lemons into lemonade. When hotel prices proved marginally expensive, Airbnb was launched in San Francisco as a platform for peer-to-peer lodging rentals. This past winter, I used Airbnb to stay in a St. Petersburg apartment one block away from the Hermitage for 70$ a night, a rate comparable to that questionable hotel via lonely highway exit. GetAround is an analogous company in the automobile genre. They saw the limitation of acquiring and maintaing a car fleet, and lucrative potential of mobility as a service. This does seem like a genius move given that 40% of the real estate in urban areas is soaked up by a good (cars) that lays fallow 22 hours out of each day. Tesla anyone? Then there is Uniiverse, which has taken it all under its wing by claiming the throne of “person-to-person marketplace for offline activities and services”.
All this sharing and online integration makes it easy to collect behavioral data. And often interesting stories can be found in all those numbers. For instance, A Month of Citi Bike, by the New Yorker, has used this to show people hopping from one side of Manhattan Island to another for their daily commute.